Occasional Musings on Arts & Community in the City of Glass
Happy Poetry Month!
Join me on my three-week celebratory tour of poetry (other literary arts, too!) and the communities forming around it, which began in March’s middle — why? — because I celebrate poetry all year long, my dears!
Poetry celebrations share qualities that I value as foundations for and gestures of community. All of the events that make up my celebration were held on unceded Coast Salish Territories.
All but one were free and open to the public. All were small scale, grass roots, welcoming gatherings of bodies, minds, and most of all, words…
Here we are at the moon gate. “In we go!”
Tuesday, March 14 — Word Whips
Held at Hastings Library and supported by the Writers Union of Canada and The League of Canadian Poets, Word Whips is a free, two-hour generative writing session offered by Pandora’s Collective, a registered Vancouver, BC charity, “dedicated to promoting literacy and self-expression in a safe and inspiring environment for writers of all genres and skill levels.”
Every other month on the second Tuesday at the Hastings Library, either Bonnie Nish or yours truly spend two hours seeking to inspire drop-in writers to take the writing challenge du jour. We provide the writing prompts, the setting, and the opportunity for sharing. Writers get 10 to 15 minutes to write to each prompt. Behold what we whip up!
In March’s middle, I sat with a handful of writers and offered them prompts to recover fugitive memories related to jobs they’ve held; remembered kisses; favorite articles of clothing; people who’ve passed out of their lives; inspirations borne of opportunity and adversity. ~
Wednesday, March 15 — Lunch Poems
Begun March 28th, 2012, Lunch Poems is a free reading series held on the third Wednesday 10 months of the year, 12 to 1 pm, in the Teck Gallery at SFU’s Vancouver Campus, where readers and listeners nibble on words and chew on meaning.
On its fifth year anniversary (approximately), Lunch Poems hosted poet and University of Alberta English and Film Studies faculty Christine Stewart and poet, critic, and former University of British Columbia faculty member Peter Quartermain.
Christine Stewart read from recent and in-process publications inspired by her considerations of Treaty Six and a community of homeless people who live under Mill Creek Bridge. In the question and answer period that followed the reading, Christine talked about her subjects’ imperative to move language from the specific and named to the indefinite and undefined.
Peter Quartermain read an entirely compelling and captivating excerpt on food procurement and scarcity from his “lengthy memoir” of his childhood and education in England during the Second World War, tentatively titled Growing Dumb.
— Free Hugs (Chevrolet Commercial)
After filling up on Lunch Poems, I traveled by bus to and from a meeting. Through the bus window, I saw a man and woman at the corner of Georgia and Granville Streets, holding Free Hugs signs. Though my stop was several blocks away, I got off at the next one and ran back to get myself some free hugs! Most people were going for the group hug. Not I! I wanted one hug from each hugger. Why not? As I perambulated from the impromptu love fest, a women with a clipboard asked me if I would consent to being in a Chevrolet commercial and if so I’d sign the handy waiver and be given $50 right then and there. I replied, “I just wanted a hug.”
— Gail Scott, A Reading
A joint presentation with Artspeak Gallery, The Writers’ Union of Canada, and Mercury Press.
This reading was held in conjunction with teacher, poet, and theorist Jeff Derksen’s SFU graduate seminar, English 854.
Gail Scott, a Montreal-based writer, translator, and editor read from The Obituary, her innovative novel that’s part ghost story and part mystery, a travelogue of self-identity locating, writing and thinking at the interface of poetics, narrative, and literature. Scott is deeply engaged with the feminist, the urban, and the social.
Free Hugs sandwiched by Lunch Poems and Gail Scott = Big Day of Words and Love on March 15. ~
Tuesday, March 21 — Poetic Pairings 7
Poetic Pairings, presented by Pandora’s Collective and Britannia Library is another brain child of Bonnie Nish, Executive Director of Pandora’s Collective. Here’s how it works: Approximately three months before the event, a congeries of poet names are shaken into a hat, coupled, and invited to collaborate on a project, then present the results of their partnership at a reading.
I’ve both participated in and hosted this event, now moving toward its eighth iteration. Only good things come to mind and pen about this concept and its realization. I love it for its premise to invite collaboration, its provocative and innovative processes, and its original and charming products — the ins and outs of which audience members get to learn during a question and answer period that follows the pairs’ presentation of their works.
The five pairs who came together for Poetic Pairings 7 — Ariadne Sawyer and Mary Duffy; Jude Neale and Andrew Warner; JC Cortens and John Swanson; Adèle Barclay and Zoe Dagneault; Raoul Fernandes and David Shewell — were five additional examples of the special and satisfying ways two human beings can come together creatively.
To name two: The Ragu/Haiku series David Shewell and Raoul Fernandes gave us. These wee, precious communiques between two fathers, one of a newborn, the other of a grown son, balanced love, humility, and pride. The collaborative efforts of JC Cortens and John Swanson — the Johns, as I call them — enacted the faceted nature of language and meaning by reordering lines in various ways which gave the listener the idea of new meaning with each turn, as with a kaleidoscope. ~
This particular installment was extra special because Anishinaabe and Franco-Ontarian poet, Liz Howard read from Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, winner of the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize — the first time the prize has been awarded to a debut collection. Liz Howard closed her reading with a long elegy to her father who suffered from social and familial disenfranchisement. The stunning recitation left nary a dry eye. Moods sweetened and lifted as we afterwards mixed and mingled with lemony cake & tea. ~
Wednesday, March 29 — Christopher Nealon w/Daphne Marlatt & Shazia Hafiz Ramji at the Field House at Second Beach, Stanley Park.
When this free poetry reading, hosted by Instant Coffee, and in conjunction with Jeff Derksen’s graduate poetics seminar at SFU, tagged their invite with these words: “Come and be with other humans” they meant them.
Tucked into a tiny Stanley Park caretaker’s residence with at least seven disco balls of varying sizes, where the first to arrive were blocked from exiting by those who came after, we were humans together, listening openly and intently to three unique voices: Shazia Hafiz Ramji read from her Anstruther Press chapbook Prosopopoeia;
It was a cozy occasion of words. I’d be remiss were I not to thank Adam Frank, UBC professor of Science and Technology Studies for rescuing me from the tiny room before claustrophobia set in and so I’d not get soaked looking for a cab. ~
Saturday, April 1 — Four Poets / No Fools, A Poetry Reading by Stephen Collis, Amy De’Ath, David Herd, Renée Sarojini Saklikar at The People’s Co-op Book Store.
Et voila, we’re at the junction of April Fool’s Day and Poetry Month! This free reading, hosted by The People’s Co-op Book Store, featured Vancouver poet Stephen Collis, UK poets Amy De’Ath, who’d just completed her doctorate at SFU, and University of Kent professor of English, David Herd, and Surrey (BC) Poet Laureate Renee Saklikar.
Stephen Collis read some “bird poems,” which he said were segue to more substantial work he hoped to write after a hiatus. Amy De’Ath read her open field, polyphonic poems. Renee Saklikar read from her life-long poem chronicle, thecanadaproject. And, David Herd read poems from his most recent collection Through and the forward from the two-volume Anthology series Refugee Tales, “telling the true stories of asylum seekers who’ve suffered at the hands of Britain’s policy of ‘indefinite detention,’ in the form of a modern-day Canterbury Tales.” The voices of these no fool poets were singular and autonomous, saying more to poetry than each other, which is not an insult, but an affect that kept my mind active on my walk home from the reading.~
Tuesday, April 4 — Michelle Elrick & Adele Barclay, A Poetry Reading
Held in The Paper Hound Bookshop’s sumptuous aisles, this free reading offered bottomless glasses of red wine to wash down chocolate cookies while Adèle Barclay warmed up for her press sister Michelle Elrick, who was launching her then/again just out from Nightwood Editions.
then/again, Michelle Elrick’s second poetry collection, is as she describes it, a book about home. What she means by that is less a home that’s tangible and real than it is conceptual and illusory. Parts fantasy and document, the collection draws from one of my all-time favorite books, Gaston Bachelard’s philosophical investigation of space and time, Poetics of Space. ~
Wednesday, April 5 — BC Book Prizes Soirée
The Soirée, held at The Emerald a few weeks prior to the official awards ceremony gala for the 14th annual BC Book Prizes, was a free, casual celebration to kick off the festivities and celebrate the nominated authors for the 2017 BC Book Prizes, as well as the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
Established in 1985, the BC Book Prizes, are administered and awarded by members of a non-profit society who represent all facets of the publishing and writing community to celebrate the achievements of British Columbia writers and publishers. The seven Prizes are presented annually at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala in the spring.
We makers and benefactors of BC’s vibrant literary community schmoozed, rubbed elbows, and dove headlong into depth-containing conversations about art-making, all the while enjoying complimentary appetizers and the cash bar.
Thursday, April 6 — I won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize Package from BC Book Prizes Finalists Books Contest!
Congratulations, Jami! You are the first winner in our Win the Finalists Contest. You have won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize Package, which includes all five of this year’s finalist books in this category:
· The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
· The Dancehall Years by Joan Haggerty
· The Heaviness of Things That Float by Jennifer Manuel
· Niagara Motel by Ashley Little
· The Parcel by Anosh Irani
Rebus Creative Project Coordinator
Each year along with a Soiree and Gala, BC Book Prizes gives away some finalist books to promote the nominated authors.
Seven prizes, one for each prize category, are awarded to contest entrants over a several week period. Each prize includes all five books shortlisted for one of the seven prizes.~
Saturday, April 8 — Magnolia Incarnata — A Dance & Poetry Performance by Celeste Snowber, Artist-in-Residence at University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Canada’s oldest university botanic garden, established in 1916.
Magnolia Incarnata: Dance and Poetry in the Asian Garden, a public and ticketed event hosted by UBC Botanical Garden, featured new work by Artist-in-Residence Celeste Snowber, who danced and read us on a tour, equal parts walking meditation and embodied prayer, through the magnificent magnolias in the Asian Garden.
My intrepid pal, Sally Whitehead, donning robin’s egg blue rubber boots — it’s Vancouver, and therefore, raining! — joined me for dancer, writer, and professor in SFU’s Faculty of Education, Celeste Snowber’s site-specific performance among the unique collection of plants and majestic magnolias in the David C. Lam Asian Garden.
A boon, among many of the magical day, was learning that the magnolia is Sally’s favorite tree. At 95 million years old, the Magnolia is one of the oldest living flowers, originally pollinated by ancient beetles, existing before bees.
The performance explored the connections between the natural world, ourselves, ecology, and the arts.
I was enthralled.
Incarnata, number five in a series of eight Celeste has planned for her two-year residency, is dedicated to the creation of original performances of dance and poetry in connection with the seasons.
A bell struck at this most poignant line of Celeste’s —
May you all, “…bloom in impossible times.”
Of all the things you could read, you’ve been here with me. Thank you, dear readers.
Look for the next P & H in two months.
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