Peerings & Hearings
Occasional Musings on Arts in the City of Glass
First thing we need to get straight is my qualifications. I’m a New Englander and not given to use phrases such as “arts scene.” I’m not particularly sensitive to social and political nuance. What I do care about is truth, justice, beauty, and community. These I see in great abundance and proliferation in our city of glass.
I use the possessive — Vancouver is my city, too — because, although I’ve lived in Vancouver for a mere 10 years, 11 months, and 20 days, it seems to me that everyone privileged to live, work, paint, sing, dance, and write in unceded Coast Salish Territory — aside from First Nations themselves — is a guest. On the other hand, outsiders have vantage, perspective gained by looking in from out. This outsider-guest likes moving in and out to get at what’s what.
That’s what this blog will be about — the ins and outs of Vancouver arts’ communities, truths, justices, and beauties.
These attributes do not exist independently of creators, actioners. The people and organizations I’ll be introducing you to are artists — most create with words — and are doing good, and what I call, “responsible,” acting for arts.
In order to not overwhelm either of us, I’ll cordon off this first post in this series with a focus on events that have taken place between May 1 and June 18 and the creators and actioners who’ve made these events happen. Away we go!
May 5: Prism International, the literary arts journal at the University of British Columbia (UBC) launched its spring issue along with five local arts journals: Sad Magazine, a biannual dedicated to “covering Vancouver’s independent arts and culture” through the work of emerging writers and artists; Geist, a quarterly, “sumptuous mix of fact and fiction, photography and comix, poetry, essays and reviews”; SubTerrain, a triannual offering “a stimulating fusion of fiction, poetry, photography and graphic illustration”; EVENT, a triannual where editors pride themselves on “finding and supporting fresh new voices” in poetry and prose; and Room, an independent quarterly “by and about women.” Prism International is in the good friend habit of joining with local journals to collaboratively host and celebrate the launch of journals’ issues. This most recent party focused on writers and artists in the various spring issues at the über cool and homey Lost + Found Cafe. “Inspired by art, travel, philanthropy and the love of fresh home-made food,” this cafe gives you a space to “come for coffee and stay for lunch.” During this evening, we heard the perspective-expanding poetry of Adele Barclay, author of forthcoming If I Were A Cage I’d Reach Out For You (Nightwood, 2016), creepy creative non-fiction by George K. Ilsley, and spiffy short fiction by Craig Takeuchi, among other provocative voices, while having our cake and eating it, too. For those of us who didn’t want cake, there was a marvelous wheel of fruit.
Prism international, established in 1959 and the oldest literary magazine in western Canada is a quarterly magazine, “whose mandate is to publish the best in contemporary writing and translation from Canada and around the world.” The spring issue, 54:3, the “non-fiction contest issue,” features a sci-fi fruit cover image: “African Horned Melon” by Maciek Jasik.
“Room is a space where women can speak, connect, and showcase their creativity.” Supporting “literature, art and feminism since 1975,” issue, 39.2 Between Shadows, with cover art by “midwest-ish illustrator and wanderer” Tiffany Mallery. Her Blood Moon matches perfectly the mood of the writing therein, including poems by dear departed American poet and friend, Elise Partridge (1958–2015), who writes in Years On, “we can’t imagine/ our seedling gifts…/foresee our caches of memories/emptied at death/ like an old barn/ so careless of what it kept/ it tossed its roof to the storm.”
May 13: On this auspicious Friday, The Capilano Review, along with co-sponsor Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Department of English, celebrated its winter issue by hosting “an aura-altering evening” with contributing and visiting poets CAConrad, somatic ritual king, and Rae Armantrout, Pulitzer Prize winner. We gathered in a large, long, and narrow industrial space, toasted each other with Sangria and nibbled on a beautiful spread of food prepared lovingly by local artist Derya Akay.
The next morning, we met in the “smaller event space” for multi-colored bagels
that looked to me like results from a Play-Doh frolic. This notion was disabused as we spread them with various cream cheeses and munched them with coffees and juices. The refreshments fueled our purpose: We were there to listen to, talk with, and write beside CAConrad, our morning’s grand Poobah. He’s opinionated, mad, funny, has a thing for children’s coffins, wears enormous (4 lb.s?) crystals around his neck, and cools himself with a Chinese fan like a mezzosoprano.
Founded in 1972 by Pierre Coupey, The Capilano Review publishes “new and established Canadian writers and artists who are experimenting with or expanding the boundaries of conventional forms and contexts.” Along with Conrad, Armantrout, and local poets, Mercedes Eng, and Donato Mancini, issue 3.28 features cover art Under the Infinite Sky by Meryl McMaster. The issue creates a stunning and artistic openness and inclusiveness. Get yourself a copy!
May 18 & June 15: Simon Fraser University, where both I and my partner teach, also hosts Lunch Poems, readings held the third Wednesday of every month, noon to 1 pm, in the Teck Gallery at Harbour Centre (SFU’s Downtown Campus). Started in March 2012, the series “has hosted a wide range of poets and their works reflecting the rich diversity of the poetry scene in our community.” (Others do use “scene,” but it doesn’t change my mind.) I and my pal Sally Whitehead have lunched on words at two Lunch Poems readings recently — May 18 with Raoul Fernandes (Transmitter and Receiver, Nightwood Editions, 2015) and Elena Johnson (Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra, Gaspereau, 2015), and June 15 with Jeff Steudel (Foreign Park, Anvil Press, 2015) and Danielle LaFrance (Friendly + Fire, Talon, forthcoming fall, 2016). If you click on LaFrance’s name, you’ll see a vimeo of her shot by CAConrad. Both Fernandes and Steudel are writing students I’ve had the pleasure to be with in conversation and classes. So, it was particularly thrilling to hear their published work. The voices of Johnson and LaFrance are newer to me, but still elicited deep connection to feeling and thinking related to the great outdoors and feminist theory. The readings are followed by a Q & A, where listeners get to ask questions about what they heard. You, dear reader can listen to these readings and others by visiting Lunch Poems.
One of the featured poets for Lunch Poems, Raoul Fernandes, is part of the editorial board, along with Mark Hoadley and Ram Randhawa for the online, biannual poetry journal, The Maynard (TM). I’m on the advisory and editorial board for this journal. The journal was born and raised in Vancouver in 2008 by another former student, Nicholas Hauck, with my advice and occasional kicks in the ass. Despite some 2010–2012 waning, the journal was revived in 2013 and has been going strong since. The spring issue went live mid-April and features cover art by Washington DC photographer and artist Link Nicoll.
All cover art for TM has to involve an orange. To make the long story short: Ron Padget wrote: “Eat an orange every day.” (from To Be Perfect). More on why oranges sometime — maybe in my next post. Let’s stick with the present. The Maynard offers poets’ work in print and via recording. You’re cordially invited to read and listen to the poems from current and back issues of The Maynard.
While there, read the new form of review — conducted in conversation between two readers — I conceived. Part of an initiative called Views, along with Reviews, there will also be Interviews, where the same set of questions is sent to two contributors and we publish their responses side by side. Views, both Re- and Inter-, complement spring and fall issues as dialogues on and with contemporary poetry. Page As Bone Ink Is Blood by Metis poet Jónína Kirton (Talon Books, 2015) is the subject of the first TM Review, conducted by yours truly and Nicholas Hauck, who is also on the advisory board.
May 26: One of my very favorite and highly respected community arts organizations in Vancouver, and anywhere, is Pandora’s Collective. This organization promotes literacy and self-expression in metro Vancouver while providing safe and inspiring environments for writers and readers of all ages. To pull this off takes a tireless director; meet Bonnie Nish and her inspiring crew, who offer poetry and creativity workshops; adult, teen, and child writers contests; scholarships to young writers; local and global outreach programs (think: 30,000 books to Zimbawe) all in the service of community, literacy, and creativity. Plus, these good people sponsor six literary events each month. Two of the monthly events are Word Whips and Twisted Poets Literary Salon. Word Whips is a two-hour generative session of writing, prompts provided, where writers see what they can “whip up.” Twisted Poets Literary Salon is a twice monthly reading series that showcases two writers and an open mic. I hosted Twisted Poets on May 26 when hullabaloo: Youth Spoken Word Festival organizers and spoken word poets RC Weslowski and Jillian Christmas presented their work. A veritable bonfire of words!
June 11: Vancouver Art Gallery opened its latest exhibit — Picasso: The Artist and His Muses. This exhibit explores Picasso’s relationships with Fernande Olivier, Olga Khokhlova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque, the six women who were principally inspirational to Picasso’s artistic expression and development. My partner and I were at the opening along with 500 or so others. Of it, he said, “Spectacular”! For me, it’s completely captivating. Even as I took my first stroll through the exhibit I was planning my next. I’ll be there often before the exhibit closes in early October.
June 14: One of my favorite events in Vancouver and anywhere, ever, is produced by the aforementioned Pandora’s Collective’s and called Poetic Pairings, which I am honored to sometimes host. What the audience hears at the event are the fruits of two months’ collaborative efforts that took place between two poets who have not previously worked together. Each pairing has its own, unique way of conjoining their works. Some of the readers at this latest foray into poetic collaboration worked in ekphrasis, others in song. Here’s the June 14th menu of readings. I recommend you watch and listen to this one with singer Falcon O’Hara (auspicious last name!) and poet Leanne Boschman. You’ll be hearing more on Poetic Pairings in a coming blog where I interview its “mother,” Bonnie Nish.
June 17: The 4th Annual LAUNCH! Festival, co-presented by 149 Arts Society and SFU Woodward’s — this mission of this festival is to support Vancouver’s emerging artists in the genres of performance, media arts, and new forms from across Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. The artists apply to a mentorship program to work with professionals in their genre, get paid to present their work to a large audience, and receive live feedback from a panel of industry professionals. This is the second year my partner and I have attended this event. This year’s array of nine artists/groups included a dancer in head-to-toe blue glitter, a new jazz ensemble that toggles between New Orleans swing and New York bebop, and a slam poet. A stop-action film, Silence, by Jae Woo Kang, chronicles the lives of two drag queens, rendered in silicone negotiating their performances with a club owner. Remarkable! Jessica Johnson’s experimental film Einst has a long shot of a moving body of water; after five minutes of this single shot, a woman enters the shot and water, naked from the waist up and disappears beneath the water. The shot continued for another five minutes while I anxiously looked for the women, forgot about her, and felt guilty for doing so. A striking take on audience/viewer and powerlessness at the disappearance of women. Actress Ellen MacNevin and magician Travis Bernhardt gave us Empathy Theater, which blurred the lines between a magic show and theatrical performance, perhaps making it clear that magic is Stheater and theater is magic. Somehow, they correctly identified the name, date of birth, and question one woman wrote on a piece of paper, then tucked into an envelope that was sealed. Magic! The most striking performance of the night came from interdisciplinary artist, Sepehr Samini who gave us his interactive The Conformist. To engage with this piece, I entered a small room through a black curtain. Samini was seated at a small table with an open chair facing him. He beckoned me to sit down and commenced gazing into my eyes. After a while, he began plastering swaths of fabric on his face until it disappeared. Then, he switched to blacklighting, which illuminated six cups of glow-in-the-dark paint, and passed me a brush. After I adorned the mask and eased back in my chair, he contorted his face until the mask fell on the floor, and from there into my hands as a gift of our moment. This powerful piece spoke to me about identity, personality, impersonation, beauty, authenticity, and pretense. So, you can see why my partner and I find it thrilling to be a part of the early expressions of these artists. The artists gain exposure to us. And, us to them. With that, comes the feeling of getting exposure to such a freshness of artistic expression; it’s like being present at a birth.
June 18: Poetry in the Park with a Gathering of Poets — Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver Park Board hosted a Poetry in Parks special event to bring fresh, local poetry to Vancouver parks. Parks Board Commissioner, Catherine Evans, a liaison with the library, and the great champion for poetry in the parks was among the esteemed guests at this special event. Fellow poet Kevin Spenst and I were the poetry ambassadors for this event, which meant we enjoyed a tea leaf reading, made an erasure poem button, and schmoozed with other poets while listening to jolly accordion music and sipping homemade chai. Exhausting! As part of the event process, we composed an original poem, 12 Awesome Uses for Lemon/s and a cento, made from the lines of poems from each of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize finalists the Gathering of Poets showcased at the event.
Finalists Ali Blythe (Twoism, Goose Lane Editions, 2015), Amber Dawn (Where the words end and my body begins, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015), Raoul Fernandes (Transmitter and Receiver, Nightwood Editions,(2015) Miranda Pearson (The Fire Extinguisher, Oolichan Books, 2015) and Jeff Steudel (Foreign Park, Anvil Press, 2015) read from their nominated works along with the 2016 Hullabaloo slam poetry champions from Coquitlam’s Gleneagles Secondary and MC’d by local poet, novelist, and former Vancouver Poet Laureate Evelyn Lau. Some of this event was meant to be held outdoors, but the rain changed that plan. Vancouver’s also know as the Raincity. The rain seemed a gift, as it cozied everyone inside the lamp and heart-lit space, where the most intimate of listening took place. As my library colleagues said, “Best event ever”!
OK, my dear readers, these are the events that have punctuated, highlighted, inspired, and affected me over the last two months in the Vancouver’s many-personalitied arts community. Thanks very much for giving me the chance to share them with you and for your kind and interested attention. It’s been my honor to introduce you to some of the makers and actioners in Vancouver.
By the way, each one of the journals I’ve mentioned is worth your reading time. Each is an inspiration. Use it to prepare and submit your work.