Last Thursday afternoon, Downtown Eastside writers gathered around five tables set up behind the Oppenheimer Park Field House as part of the Create & Share Workshop and Open Mic event during the Downtown Eastside Writers’ Festival. The Festival is in its second year and provides a wide range of stimulating and engaging activities and events, including readings, author talks, workshops, panels and much more.
At Thursday’s Create & Share event, Claire Matthews (writing coordinator at UBC’s Humanities 101), Kevin Spenst (poetry mentor at SFU’s The Writers’ Studio) and I each facilitated a writing table. Additional tables were facilitated by DTES writers Phoenix Winters and Ghia Aweida. Festival staff Teresa Vandertuin and Lalia Fraser along with volunteers and Oppenheimer staff made sure everyone there was well-supported with coffee, tea, snacks, and pens, paper.
At my table, I set up my old manual typewriter (appropriate given the festival program cover!) and laid out several art postcards and ordinary objects as writing prompts. I also wrote out some writing prompts on a flipchart. It’s always fascinating to see who is drawn to the typewriter and the sounds of typing. I urged passers-by to try it out. One fellow pulled up a seat and slowly, painstakingly typed out a delightful prose poem based on one of the postcards that skillfully integrated the vantage point of the viewer. (I wished he’d typed or signed his name before he left!)
Award-winning DTES poet, Henry Doyle sat in front of the old manual typewriter I’d set up and typed out the start of a short ode to one of his antique typewriters purchased years ago at a store uptown on Main Street.(He grew this short stanza below into a longer poem later at home.)
I have it on a throne.
As one walks into my place
down a small hallway. It is there.
A 1912 Remington typewriter
that weighs 50 pounds.
The writing session then moved into a chance for writers to share their new work at an open mic. I loved watching the sign language interpreters as they interpreted the poems that each poet who came up to read. They were so graceful, and used their faces and body movements to vividly express each line. Below is a photo of Gilles Cyrenne, the coordinator of the DTES Writers’ Collective that meets weekly at the Carnegie, who read two pieces he wrote during the session.
Somehow, surfing the waves of creative intention generated by all the assembled writers, I also managed to draft a quick poem.
–Dedicated to DTES Writers and staff at the Carnegie, Megaphone and Oppenheimer Field House
Time to write a poem
under the trees, sunlight raying through
the lush filigree of green leaves onto thirsty pages.
Around each table, writers as focused as sunlight,
filtering words through fingers and pens—
bare words scraggly words lavish words
Stuttering muttering fluttering uttering
a feast of quickening metaphors
about to burst into verbilicious harvest.
I read this short piece that afternoon as well as a tweaked version the following Friday evening at Megaphone Magazine’s launch of its yearly Voices of the Street anthology.
Given that there had been a reading of work by dead DTES poets the night before, I decided to first read an anthologized poem entitled “Compass” about homelessness by Robyn Livingstone, a long-time DTES resident and creative spirit who passed away in hospital last year. Many people in the audience knew and loved him.
This year’s Voices of the Street anthology is a flip book, with one side containing writing by DTES residents on the theme of “losing hope” and the other side containing writing about “finding home”—an inspired concept executed beautifully by Managing Editor Paula Carlson. Evocative and powerful work was read by contributors Jathinder Sadhu, Michael Cloutier, Nicolas Crier, Eva Watterson, Henry Doyle, Gwen Lagimodiere, Peter Thompson, Yvonne Mark and James Witwicki.
Congratulations to the contributors to this year’s Voices of the Street anthology and to the dedicated team who organized the DTES Writers’ Festival, to Megaphone staff, plus staff at the Carnegie Centre and Oppenheimer Field House, along with all the participants who made the DTES Writers’ Festival such a success!