Peerings & Hearings

Occasional Musings on Arts in the City of Glass

image: Jay Banks

There’s perhaps no better way than a first time of doing something to instruct me on ways I want to do things differently, ways to redirect my ideas, ways to refine my intentions and attentions. In this case, I’m referring to my first blog post on arts in Vancouver. In the first Peerings & Hearings post (P & H #1), I showcased eight literary arts journals, 32 artists, eight arts organizations, and one arts café. My intention was to shine grateful light upon as many artists and arts organizations as I could to introduce the community without overtaxing your attention. I attempted to be broad-ranging, covering several artistic genres, disciplines, and demographics to give you a spectral lay of this rich land. I see now, with the benefit of time and some lovely responses, that my quest for inclusivity bespoke a recondite motivation to inquire more and learn more about and from community. This has sparked a meditation on the premises and promises of community.

Premise #1: Community is built on and from gratitude to those who come to us. I thank and bow to everyone who has read and passed on P & H #1. Some of you I do not yet know, but I want to. I count you as members of my community. So, leave comments. Say who are and what brought you to the post. Say something. Thank you.

Premise #2: In order to be included in community one must be inclusive of community. This is the premise that motivated the P & H #1 buffet. This premise also entails for me a request to be included. What I’ve learned, as you might have guessed (or even guffawed at!), is that writing about people and events doesn’t automatically obligate reciprocity (likes, comments, reposts, etc.).

Premise #3: Community is built on mutually beneficial support. As good as it feels to be supported, there’s an obverse side to the coin. There’s untold reward and gratification in being of service — writing a review, editing a manuscript, editing a journal, teaching a class, showcasing artists, putting cash in the hat, etc. Each altruistic act brings knowledge of self, of arts, and of community; I’m inspired to be better; to make more; to get involved. Plainly, I receive support while I am in the supportive role. That’s reciprocity. And, that’s one of the qualities I’m after in this community.

Those are the three premises I’m meditating on right now. My sense is that if I look at some examples of people and organizations that are fostering community in these ways, they’ll broaden my thinking about community and what makes it. The example in this post is a partnership between three organizations central to Vancouver, who collaborate to bring Fresh Local Poetry to Vancouver’s parks, the farmers markets, and the people in them.

Fresh Local Poetry Logo

The Fresh Local Poetry pilot project was developed in partnership with the Vancouver Park Board’s Arts, Culture, and Engagement team, Vancouver Public Library, and the City of Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, Rachel Rose. This partnership is an exciting enactment of community.

Poetry in Parks is the result of a Vancouver Park Board motion passed in May 2015 to bring poetry to Vancouver Parks. The cutting edge project kicked off in 2015 and a broader program is unfolding in 2016. The Vancouver Park Board “seeks to actively help everyone access and participate in the arts” because “the arts are an essential element in a vital, creative, and balanced city.”

I’m thrilled to live in a city where the Parks Board is actively engaging and promoting arts. Now in its second season, the Poetry in Parks project “Fresh Local Poetry” invites residents of Vancouver to engage with professional, free-range poets to create and recite poetry in Vancouver’s parks. The poetry created and read is inspired by nature, food, urban farming or by participants’ memories of a favorite experience with nature or food. Participants have the opportunity to read their poetry out loud or have the local poets read a poem written for them.

Kevin Spenst and I are the professional, free-range poets, who are hosting and participating in events in parks and at farmers markets. We’re also Poetry Ambassadors for city Poet Laureate Rachel Rose (look for my interview with her in my next post, P & H #3). Rachel’s community initiatives center on food sustenance and sovereignty. Read on to learn about our free-range, wild, and unfettered appearances at Vancouver Farmer Markets in July and August.

Trout Lake Farmers Market Saturday, July 16, 2016, 9 am to 2 pm

Poets Bonnie Nish, Mark Hoadley, and I had a blast reading poetry to people at Trout Lake Farmers Market. All we contacted were super lovely and open to us serenading them with poems such as: “Odes to Onion,” “Eggs,” “Cherry Tomatoes,” “Peaches,” “Blueberries,” Potatoes,” etc.

Jami Macarty, holding Mark’s Chapbook & some blueberries, Mark Hoadley holding Jami & Bonnie Nish

Mark Hoadley made Are Blueberries Blue?, a chapbook for the occasion. He also doled out blueberries, so listeners could bite into a blueberry and see for themselves whether or not it’s blue on the inside, while he read the poem to them.

Bonnie Nish & Mark Hoadley

Poets Bonnie Nish & Mark Hoadley from the west of the market to the east end, collaboratively reading poems — her one line, then him the next.

The composition of a limerick!

Some kids wrote poems and recited to us.

Cat girl!

One of my favorites is by Chloe: “Strawberries like red sweaters.”

We handed out poems, recipes, calls for submissions (both Room magazine and The Capilano Review, two literary journals showcased in the first post, plan issues that focus on food) and read to people, their veggies, their fruits, and while they had lunch.

Fresh Local Poetry Pins, book marks, Are Blueberries Blue? by Mark Hoadley

As we roamed, ranged, and reveled, many listeners shared poems or stories about poetry with us. We read to the tinned salmon vendor, to the grilled cheese maker, to the wine purveyor. We read to a sustainable farmer selling potatoes, who asked to keep the “Potato” poem, which he wanted to put up in his store — and so on we spread the poetry love! By the end of the five-hour stint, everyone was wearing Fresh Local Poetry pins and the word-revelry was on high. I loved every sumptuous minute of it.

Kitsilano Farmers Market Sunday, July 24, 2016 10 am to 2 pm

Jullian Christmas, Timothy Shay, and Kevin Spenst also had a blast reading and writing poems and recipes to one and all at the Kitsalano Farmers Market.

Jillian Christmas on ukelele & Timothy Shay on poetry

Things got started with Tim Shay reading to Jillian Christmas’ ukulele accompaniment at the market’s north end.

Jillian Christmas accompanies Timothy Shay reading Scottish recipes as market goers approach

Timothy Shay read some of his amazing poetry and recipes from a Scottish cookbook.

Then, we moved to the center of the action. When we announced in our biggest voices the Fresh Local Poets initiative, a couple requested a haiku. Timothy gave them an enlightening cultural explanation of the Japanese language and evolution of the form.

After engaging with people in the thick of things (the cheese vendor asked them to come back!), we went to a shady area at the north of the market. For the last couple of hours, we handed out pins, read more of our own work — one woman teared up listening to a poem by Jillian — and read the poetry of others.

Kevin Spenst, Jillian Christmas, Timothy Shay, & Catherine Evans

It was great to see Catherine Evans, Parks Board commissioner, the one who spear-headed the Poetry in the Parks initiative, enjoying the fruits of her labors as she looked on and listened to poetry coming to the ears of market-goers in the park.

West End Farmers Market Saturday, August 13, 2016 9 am to 2 pm

For the West End Farmer’s Market all was perfect: the weather; our location in the Park; the market staff and patrons; the poetry; the poets. Everything!

Jeff Steudel, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, & Kevin Spenst

Poets Jeff Steudel and Shazia Hafiz Ramji joined Kevin Spenst to turn some heads and tilt some hearts toward poetry.

Here’s what Jeff and Shazia wrote by way of retrospect:

Jeff Steudel: “It was new for me to say to unsuspecting folks, “Would you like to hear a poem?” …the poems began a conversation, which seemed satisfying to all of us. It certainly was for me.”

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: “This was such a pleasant experience! Writing poetry specially for a wide and family-friendly audience really focused the intention of my poems toward forging connections with people by being candid and using the senses! It felt so good to have my words be of service to hearts and fruits and veggies!”

We ended the season with a two thousand point bang — the score Kevin Spenst got from a ten-year-old for a poem he read, called “Alligator Pie”!

This partnership between the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Public Library, the Vancouver Poet Laureate, and the Parks Board is a gorgeous example of community because it’s a partnership and a collaboration. By definition their working relationship contains mutually beneficial and reciprocal support. Their initiative involves and engages lots of people at the intersections of many micro-communities within the City’s macro-community. How do they do all that? Intention! Premise # 5: Community is built on intention!


Since we seem to be all about food all the time here, in Vancouver this summer, I want to bring your attention to a few other community wunderkinds and the ways they proffer sustenance to Vancouver.


TO: Bonnie Nish of Pandora’s Collective, Candie Tanaka of International Centre of Arts and Technology (ICOAAT) and our friends at Room magazine for sponsoring Odes to Food, the interactive writing workshop focused on the sense of taste I offered to 18 writers at the beginning of July. For two hours, we tasted our way through a smorgasbord of evocative writing exercises that called forth food memories, allergies, guilts, and desires, filling our notebooks and bellies! With these women, who generously offered an open, inclusive space in which to make art with others, I found community.

A table set for Odes to Poetry at IOAAT

TO: Pablo Neruda and the lovely gathering of people who joined me to celebrate his 112th birthday on July 12. Poet Henry Rappaport was among them. We read Neruda’s poetry, while sipping his mischief-making alcoholic concoction and ate vanilla cake with passion fruit filling from Le Gateau Bakeshop topped with a line — I want/ to revere your ear — from Neruda’s poem 10 in Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, translated by Forrest Gander (Copper Canyon, 2016). Then, we attended Flin Flon Flim Flam, an InvestigativeMEDIA’s documentary on the worldwide operations of Hudbay Minerals and the company’s plans to construct the Rosemont open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson, Arizona. With Don Pablo at the center and these pals at my side, we supported Director, John Dougherty, who’s documentary is giving voice and audience to the people and land of Guatemala and Arizona. Concentric, expanding circles of support, Don Pablo would approve.

Henry Rappaport choosing a Neruda poems to read; Neruda’s coctelon in the foreground

TO: Kezia Wineberg, Founder and Editorial Director of SITUATE Magazine. “Nomadic by nature, SITUATE is a content-rich online periodical that uses place as the grounding point for each issue.” Shifting geographic focus every three months, SITUATE provides an in-depth look at a different city or small country. The current issue is devoted to Vancouver. I count myself lucky to have two of my poems, Missing Women and On the 135 in this issue, and fortunate to have worked with most professional, grounded, and thoughtful Kezia. I am inspired to collaborate with her to contribute to community.

SITUATE Magazine logo

That’s all for now, dear readers. Look for the next P & H blog in two months; it will feature an interview with Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, Rachel Rose.

In the meantime, write to me, leave a comment. Tell me what you want more of and less of in this blog — and in your community — and what’s just right. It’s always good to know what’s just right.

Be nice. Make Art. Foster Community.