Poems about Strathcona

(Photo taken by Petra, Arts & Culture Editor of The Peak)

This past Sunday, six talented youth, emerging and established poets, whose poems about Strathcona neighbourhood had been chosen as finalists for the City Poems Contest, read their shortlisted poems at a free public afternoon event the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden! About 39 folks were in attendance, several of whom were visitors to the Gardens who dropped in to listen. The event was co-sponsored by the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop.

Poems about Dr. Sun Yat Gardens

Since three of the poems were set in Garden, it was the perfect venue for the event! We started off with Kelsey Andrews, who recently published her debut collection of poems, Big Sky Falling. She read her poem on the theme of wildness that drew upon the news story about the infamous otters that had snuck into the Garden to gobble the beloved coy fish in the Garden’s ponds several years ago. (Staff assure me that the fish were replaced!) Emerging poet Vivian Li read two poems about the Gardens, including an ekphrastic one about a recent art exhibit.

Youth Poets

Three of the readers at the event were high school poets! We heard a poem that explored Chinatown via Google Maps written during the pandemic by Crystal Peng from Crofton House; a poem imagining the struggles of an early Chinese pioneer by Isabel Hernandez-Cheng from York House; and a poem by Adrian Yue from Eric Hamber Secondary about travelling by bus through Chinatown and watching a film with his grandmother. I read a few poems by youth finalists who had written about Strathcona who couldn’t attend as well: one was a poem about fractured cultural identity by Windemere Secondary student, Patricia Chen (who was in grade 11 when she submitted her poem). There were two delicious poems that featured food too! A poem by Sharon Pan (who was in grade 7 at Tecumseh Elementary School when her poem was submitted) depicted Vie’s Chicken and Steak House in Hogan’s Alley, a hub for the Black community that was evicted by the City’s construction of the Georgia viaduct. (Her whole grade seven class wrote poems about Hogan’s Alley as an assignment set by their teacher, Tilia Prior! I wrote a blog touching upon the school’s history and visiting the class here.) I also read a poem by University Hill Secondary student, Ya Xin Angela Lu, who wrote about Chinatown’s BBQ Duck restaurants.

Poems about Place and Family

Artist and academic, Donna Seto read her evocative poem about her grandmother taking a walk along Pender Street and around Chinatown. As he was out of town, I read a poem by emerging poet and contest winner, Jeremy Chu, about the Marco Polo restaurant that was a popular entertainment hub in Chinatown 1964-1982. I also read a moving poem by emerging poet Angela May about her Japanese great grandmother, a single mother who lived with her children on East Hastings and then in the Lion Hotel on Powell Street, and who fought being evicted by the police.


We had a wonderful discussion about the poems that were presented. Interestingly none of them had written a poem about Strathcona prior to the contest! This made it clear that the City Poems Contest helped to motivate people to go outside their comfort zone to write about place. We talked about the poets’ relationship to Strathcona, and the challenges of writing poetry versus prose.

About the poets and how to find their poems

The bios of the readers who were present are listed below in alphabetical order by first name. You can find the text of their poems and those of the shortlisted poets who couldn’t make it (as well as finalists who wrote about other parts of town) here, plus recordings of them reading their poems on the VPL YouTube Playlist here.

Adrian Yue (he/him) is a poet, painter, and creative who was born and raised in Vancouver. His work details themes of loss, connection, and time. Through writing, he is able to transform his thoughts into tangible pieces of prose or poetry. When not writing, he enjoys gardening and music. His debut poetry chapbook will be coming out soon.

Crystal Peng lives in Vancouver, BC. She edits for the Flat Ink and reads EX/POST. When not writing, she spends her time propagating succulents, listening to the Goldberg Variations, or in a wikipedia rabbithole about oysters.

Donna Seto is a writer, academic, and artist from Vancouver, BC. Her work has been published in The New Quarterly, Ricepaper Magazine, and academic journals. Donna is working on her first novel, a collection of short stories, and an illustrated book on Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Kelsey Andrews grew up in the country near Grande Prairie in Northern Alberta, then moved to Vancouver, and lives now in Saanichton, Vancouver Island, on WSANEC territory. Her first book of poetry, Big Sky Falling, came out in November of 2021 with Ronsdale Press.

Isabel Hernandez-Cheng is an eighth grade student attending York House School in Vancouver. She enjoys studying social studies and English language arts. She took inspiration for this poem from a recent visit to several exhibitions about Chinese history in Chinatown.

Vivian Li (she/her) is a writer, editor, and musician who enjoys exploring various artistic disciplines. Her creative works are published in The Fiddlehead, CV2, and Vallum, among others. A MFA candidate at UBC, she currently edits for PRISM international, and can be reached on Twitter @eliktherain. Her debut poetry chapbook will be coming out soon.