BWS 11.07.18: Vanessa McGowan


Vanessa McGowan is a Toronto, Canada based spoken word artist & singer/songwriter living with Cerebral Palsy. McGowan’s EP “Alive” was released by Factory Fast Records, New York City in 2014 and her work can be heard as the only poetry, on musical compilations “Americana Retrofit” and “Smoking Gun.” She opened for Buddy Wakefield during his 2014/15 world tour and was the highest ranking Canadian poet to perform in the Finals at The Capturing Fire Slam 2015 in Washington, DC. As a successful solo touring performance poet, Vanessa has featured at venues across North America . She is currently working on her first show, “I Don’t Remember” set for release in October 2018. Publications include Divine Cockeyed Genius (bojit Press, 2012) and I Make People Leak…Sometimes (Armora Press, 2015). McGowan is a proud co-founder of WordSpell, Canada’s only ongoing spoken word series showcasing women and non binary poets.


Ahead of her July 11th appearance, Vanessa shares an excerpt from her theatrical production currently in progress, “I Don’t Remember”.



“We’re hurried into a small dingy room @ The Hospital For Sick Children.

I wanted to wear my pleather pants, but noooo…

Mum reminded me,

“You’ll be sitting for a long time and want to be comfortable and you’ll have to take your pants on and off  and you’re not good at that“


they sat lonely in my dresser drawer, YEARNING to be worn

In favor of more something “more practical”

crisp cotton baby blue “rugby pants” (aren’t they cute? NO THEY ARE NOT CUTE)


With the thick elastic waist, from Bargain Harold’s. I HATE them.

I want jeans with zippers, like my sister.


This is my regular appointment. It feels special. I don’t have to go to school.

We wake up early and I get to spend the whole day with my Mum.

Everyone wears brightly coloured scrubs and is happy…like ALL THE TIME

The waiting room perpetually smells like nervous mother and disinfectant.

It’s packed. No one makes eye contact

Every adult has a bag of “Here, take this and sit down” treats at the ready

We’ll be here so long I will start to think time has stopped


As usual, the lady who calls out all the names

put us in this room long before the doctors are ready to see me

Mum is missing work. She does not like missing work

So we sit alone. Awkwardly waiting

Mum will tell me again to “walk the way you usually do” for the doctors

She thinks I “change it up” on purpose to “show off” or something

I don’t

My body fills with anticipation

That special feeling is long gone

I know I will be the centre of attention but, not in the fun way.

In the way I know is only for kids like me


They will ask me rehearsed questions I know they don’t want the answers to

So I look down at my swinging pasty bare legs and brace myself.


They always enter confident, men smiling sweetly, they greet me first

Their voices are consistently just a little bit too high pitched.

The way adults alter the timbre of their voice when trying to calm a child. It does not calm me.

Suddenly the room feels claustrophobic. I’m aware there are too many adult eyes on my body.

I want to put my pants back on.

I feel like a zoo exhibit.

They praise me for being so “high functioning”

They’ve “never seen another case like this before”.

I confuse them with my ability to exist.

I stand there pantsless in a room of adults

It doesn’t feel like a compliment.

There is a scream caught in my throat. I do not show it

I smile and stay silent wishing I could fly out of this room


Their too big,  always “sorry they’re cold” hands examine my body.

Weighty fingers press too hard

They talk to each other and my Mum but not me. Never me.

I don’t understand the words they use.

No one will explain

Instead I will concentrate on the Whitney Houston song on repeat in my head


There is a machine they think will help my legs

One of the nurses with little yellow hearts on her top and big blue eyes tells me

they are gonna put some electricity through my muscles.

Suddenly the room feels full yet again and

there is a doctor putting electrodes on my legs. (explain electrodes)


I hear a click and searing pain shoots through my legs. It disorients me.

I am dizzy and confused that pain like this is actually a thing

I want to curse (I’m not allowed)

I wanna tell them all to leave me alone but I know

I don’t get to do that

because they are trying to make me better, because

maybe there is a cure for this

and they just don’t know it yet.


They say I’ll be like this forever but

they said I wouldn’t be able to walk or point my toes AND I CAN

I’m pretty sure the big secret is

they have no idea what they’re doing


There is a  preacher on TV who makes people shake. He says “god can do that!”


I don’t understand why they call me a miracle when the preacher guy and the priest at school says

if god cured me THAT would be a miracle


I try to smile, I don’t wanna be rude

My mouth makes noises reserved for just these occasions

The embarrassing moments when pain forces my body to betray my brain

It’s always in front of strangers

I want to be tough, I swallow hard. Why is it always like this?


They leave this dingy room with pasted on grins

pat me on the head

I will wonder what’s next…”

Vanessa McGowan visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Chang Liu, Arielle Twist, Kiley May, and guest speaker Scott Fraser who will share his thoughts about, “Understanding Acquisitions: What Authors Should Consider When Pitching Their Book.”



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