Poetry in Oppenheimer Park!

I am so glad that the Poetry in Parks program has resumed since past poet laureate, Rachel Rose initiated it in 2015! Kevin Spenst and Natasha Sanders-Kay have recently facilitated a few of these free monthly community workshops now being held at Oppenheimer Park. I offered to facilitate the winter monthly writing sessions on December 1, January 5 and February 2.

This afternoon, ten Downtown Eastside writers came by to participate in writing exercises on the theme of ordinary objects. (Next sessions will be on ekphrastic/art-based poems and on food/famine.) Several participants were members of the Downtown Eastside Writers Collective that meets weekly on Thursday afternoons at the Carnegie Centre nearby, including its coordinator, Gilles Cyrenne who is working on his second collection of poems. I loved seeing many familiar faces from my past visits with the Collective over the years, and really enjoyed meeting new writers too!

After introductions, I began with Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Ode to My Socks” and my poem, “Utility Pole”, and talked about Don McKay’s poems about a knife, fork and spoon We looked at how imagery, structure and sound work in synergy in a poem.

We then did two rounds of writing and sharing. There was some great writing inspired by objects that had been set out on a nearby table or were already nearby. There was writing about a glow-in-the-dark star ornament, a tiny wooden canoe, a yellow plastic toy shovel, a clam shell, a pen, a baseball, a mango, and a paper cup among other items. I asked the participants to use personification, i.e. to take on the persona of the object they had chosen, using the first person “I” which clearly demonstrated how even the most everyday item could have quite a personality!

The second round of writing involved participants drawing from a bag of folded pieces of paper, on which each of them had written the name of an ordinary object that might be interesting to write about. This time I asked them to write a scene from the any point of view using the prompt, “the way…” (for depicting a process), “he/she/they/you/we don’t remember…” or “ “he/she/they/you/we will never forget….” Items included a picture frame, a cell phone, a plank, chalk, and a table—objects full of symbolic potential!

Thanks so much to Carnegie Centre coordinator Beverly Walker, and Park Board staff Jennifer Taylor who arranged for photocopying, and getting me a flipchart and markers, plus Field House staffers David and Rui who helped set up a small Christmas tree, chairs, tables, plus coffee, tea, hot chocolate and donated sweet and savoury pastries. The group and I felt very well-supported (and well-fed and hydrated) throughout the two hour workshop!

Afterward, I stuck around to play the outdoor upright piano which was in pretty good shape and mostly in tune except for a few lower keys (F, G and A in the bass), but it was close to 0 degrees Celsius, and my fingers were pretty chilled after stumbling through a few easy preludes (Bach, Chopin and Debussy). I soon walked back over the icy sidewalks to climb the famous winding marble staircase past the stained glass windows of Shakespeare, Milton and Spenser inside the Carnegie Centre (a historic building built in 1903 as one of 125 Canadian libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie) to return the unused pens and paper pads to the office, before hopping on the #16 bus on East Hastings to get home before dusk.

These free poetry workshops helmed by diverse local poets will continue to be offered from 1-3 pm on the first Thursday of each month, well into the spring!