Under a tent set up for me on the sidewalk at the corner of Main and Hastings this afternoon, I set up my old manual typewriter, inserted a fresh sheet of paper and waited for the requests to come in from passers-by for brand new, original poems on the theme of their choice or using their suggested prompts. In an hour and a half, I typed out 11 poems of varying lengths of 8-20 lines. Some of the subjects included autumn leaves, Genghis Khan, hope, the colour violet, being a lousy student, “self-camouflage” (to mask outsider status in order to be accepted), “Life, loving, and living”, and the inspiration provided by DTES activist Sandy Cameron.
This was my first ever poetry-on-demand experience, and it won’t be my last. I loved the sense of connection it fostered. A few of the people I wrote poems for were clearly facing profound challenges and were barely able to speak. Others were surprised by my interest and questions as I took notes in preparation for cobbling together their poems. Every one of them seemed to appreciate a poem being created just for them, despite my typos and simple phrasing. I wrote more poems for others in that hour and half than I have for myself in 10 months (admittedly, I have been rather busy)!
We were even regaled with a spoken word performance by DTES comedian and playwright Richard Lett, who was a 2013 spoken word champion going by the name of Optimus Rhyme.
The Spontaneous Poetry on Demand booth was the inspiration of Carnegie Centre Board member and DTES Writing Collective coordinator, Gilles Cyrenne. His idea came from Natalie Goldberg’s classic 1986 writing handbook, Writing Down the Bones. It’s one of the events that is part of a wide range of wonderful events at this year’s Heart of the City Festival. Gilles manned the booth Friday and will do it again Sunday, October 30, 2-3:30 pm.
I will be back at the Carnegie Centre, inside this time, to join a panel on mentorship and community with Elee Kraljii Gardiner and DTES poet Henry Doyle, that will be moderated by former SFU TWS Coordinator, Betsy Warland from 2-3:30 pm that same Sunday. This annual festival of art, film, literature, dance, theatre, walking tours, discussion, and music will continue through the week into next weekend!
(For those who might be interested, I will be holding free two-hour writing workshops through the Poetry in the Parks program sponsored by the VPL Carnegie Branch and the Vancouver Parks Board at the field house at Oppenheimer Park from 1-3 pm on Thursday, December 1, January 5, and February 2.)