The man behind the mask

Instapoet Atticus delivers a reading at the Oshawa Centre Indigo book store. Photo credit: Madison Gulenchyn

Atticus is a poet some will understand and embrace – others not at all. He started on Instagram and now has a following of more than 800,000. The catch? No one knows who he is.

He’s known for wearing a reflective Guy Fawkes mask. He says the mask itself holds no importance and he’ll go through different ones during his career.

He is known as an ‘Instapoet’, a poet who shares his work on Instagram and began his rise to fame in 2013. After a few years of writing he’s kept his identity under wraps, but his work has been shared on Instagram by people such as supermodel Karlie Kloss, actress Emma Roberts and singer Cody Simpson.

The only few known facts about Atticus are that he’s Canadian, from British Columbia, and in his ‘kind of older 20s’.

He remains anonymous to protect the integrity of his work. He says he wants to write what he feels, not what he thinks he should feel.

“Just the way he puts words together, it’s incredible how they touched me deep inside…He talks a lot about worthiness and courage and strength. I struggle with those, and it just felt like somebody out there understood,” said Kim Sifft, 48.

Sifft travelled an hour from the Newmarket area to see Atticus at the Oshawa Centre Indigo Oct. 3. The event, which attracted about 100 people, was a reading followed by a book signing by the masked author. She said she didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

Kate Bracey, manager of the Oshawa Centre Indigo, said larger events like Atticus’ are hosted four times a year by the store. She said the events are special for fans.

“I think books are really personal for people and when they start to follow an author, or a poet, or whatever you want to call it, they feel that personal connection,” Bracey said. “Already tonight people have asked ‘Will he sign the page that has my favourite poem on it?’ You know, they really want to make it personal with that author or that poet or musician or whoever it is.”

The poet had just two Ontario tour dates – one in Oshawa and the next night in Toronto.

“I’ve been following him on Instagram and I love his art with words. I’ve never been to an event like this. I was so thrilled that it was so local. I would drive two, three hours to see somebody I really like. I was so excited that he was coming to Oshawa. I understand Toronto, but I was really thrilled about Oshawa,” Sifft said.

At the event he read poems from his previous book, Love Her Wild, and poems from his most recent book, The Dark Between Stars.

“I think that with all the terrible things going on in the world, I think it’s a beautiful thing that there can be a room full of people, kind of talking about love. I think that’s really meaningful,” Atticus told the gathering at the start of the event.

He went on to tell the room what he describes as “one of the most profoundly human, sad yet weird kind of beautiful things that I’ve ever been exposed to.” The room’s mood turned as he told the story of a girl, named Alina, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Atticus received a message over social media from her friend. She said the doctors didn’t think she would make it to the release date of his second book and asked for an early audiobook, as Alina was “too weak to read but strong enough to listen.”

He offered to come read to Alina. He flew to Florida and although she was unconscious, Atticus read to her. He told the audience it was evident she could hear him as he was reading his poetry, and he even read her own poetry to her.

“Towards the end, her mother said, ‘You know Alina would want you to have this, it’s a book of her poetry.’ I started reading her own poems to her and I got to one of the last ones,” he said.

After finishing the poem – about goosebumps – the girl’s arm erupted in goosebumps. She died a few moments later, surrounded by her family, Atticus said.

“I wanted to share that because it was so human, and I don’t think we talk about those human things enough. I think that we should,” Atticus said.