Softly gently courageously I Love self
An invitation to be mighty is the path
A warrior’s walk is my walk…

Rawle James ends his poem with a loving smile. The audience breaks into applause. I’m at the Landmark Bean Scene Coffeehouse in Kelowna. It’s packed with people jacked up on cups of joe and thirsty for the inspiring words being shared tonight. It’s all part of a monthly gathering called the Inspired Word Café, an event that offers poetry/spoken word/music to those who want to listen and a stage for those who want to take part.

I’m new to this crowd and curious to see who preforms. A tall guy gets up to play a few tunes. He’s awesome, but there’s a nervous glint in his eye as he rocks the crowd. I find out he’s a regular and only 15 years old. Already the night is impressive.

The Inspired Word Café is a community-based project, free of charge, made available with help from the Bean Scene and thanks to its creator, Rawle James. I’ve known Rawle for awhile, but mostly as the friendly guy behind the counter who warms my spanakopita and pours me a latte at the Bean Scene downtown. With his trademark surfer smile and a swath of freewheeling dreadlocks, he seems to enjoy the life of a barristo, but I never really dug further than that. Then one Friday, while waiting for my lunch to be ready, I randomly ask if there’s anything going on tonight. He says yeah, the Inspired Word Café.

“Is it something you preform at?” I ask.

“I run it,” he replies. “Started it while I was finishing my first book.”

I look at him a little more straight on. “You wrote a book?”

“Yeah, I also used to do this kind of thing when I taught business development.” He goes on to share his passion for coaching football and how he went through a life shift 11 years ago that led him to focus his energy on work he loves rather than numbly going through the motions to “get by.” As his story unfolds the name for his gathering starts to make a lot of sense.

At the show that evening I witness a wide range of work. A brightly clad spitfire warms up the crowd with a graphic poem of her lust for good grammar in potential mates. A man from New Zealand reads a short story about the gastronomic longings of a child. Some of the people who take the stage have been at it for awhile, some put on a brave face but are tenderly belied by the shaking paper in front of them. Some of the readings are well structured and brilliant while others are simple and unassuming. To each guest brave enough to stand in front of unknown judges lurking in the backs of the listeners’ minds, I feel a sense of admiration. For myself, it’s much easier to hide behind the print of a magazine than it is to read straight to the crowd. And yet, rising to speak in a pile of your own unkempt vulnerability infuses the written word with a kind of power only felt when shared aloud.

I slip outside with Rawle between acts and ask what he enjoys most about taking the time to offer this to the Okanagan. “Watching people come into their own, watching them allow that creativity to shine and get past that fear?…?I just think if you give people the opportunity and encourage them, they’ll amaze you. Every time I come here I am amazed by what happens.” I hit stop on my recorder and say thanks for the inspiring words.

Check out the Inspired Word Café on Facebook.