High School Collaborative Moon Poems!

Earlier this month, I visited Ms. Luice Kim’s grade 11 and grade 12 English classes at Royal Canadian College high school in South Vancouver as part of the Poet in School program. (Photo of the grade 12 class below.)

The Poet in School program is run by the wonderful non-profit organization, Poetry in Voice, that provides resources for teaching and learning poetry in Canada with the mission to inspire students to read, recite and write poetry. Through Poetry in Voice, I’ve visited a number of schools, either online (during the earlier part of the pandemic) and in person, as well as participated as a juror in the online national recitation contest this past spring, and as a judge for the live team regional recitation competition in the past.

After a quick overview of the components of sound, structure and imagery in poetry, we looked at how to create metaphors and similes. With the image of a full moon projected at the front of the room, each class was asked to create three different metaphors and similes about the moon that I could collate and turn into a collaborative poem. I urged them to come up with wild and weird comparisons to challenge me. And they certainly did!

I did a follow up visit via Zoom so I could share the process of how the students’ various metaphors were grouped together to develop a kind of narrative and lyric thread with tonal shifts between stanzas. They could also see what was added as mortar to make all the different parts cohere as the collaborative poems were built from the ground up. I thanked them for inspiring me!

Below are the two collaborative poems assembled with metaphors generated by each class, accompanied by an audio-recording of my reading each one! (I’ve put the students’ metaphors/similes in bold-face type.)


(Grade 12 Collaborative Class Poem at Royal Canadian College High School with Fiona Tinwei Lam)

Moon, you shining beast,
sometimes your ball of light
hangs suspended in the black sky
like a disco ball
that makes the night dance.

Sometimes, your light is like a big Camaro,
blocking up the shimmering
of the stars we long to see.

Other times you flicker
like a candle or a broken light bulb,
your faraway desert and plains 
barely visible.

Sometimes, you’re like the white face
of a person staring at me
with eyes that scrutinize
my every flaw.

But I see your flaws too, Moon.
Last winter, you were ugly—
like a bald head under a flashlight
or a light bulb covered with dirt.
You were like a muddy snowball stuck
in someone’s fence. And last month,
like an overripe banana.

But this spring, you’re different!
You’re like a brand new eraser wiping out
daytime mistakes from everyone’s pages.

You’re like a big fat cheese pizza,
a vanilla-frosted birthday cake, or just
a pretty white porcelain bowl full of rice
for everyone to eat.


(Grade 11 collaborative poem at Royal Canadian College High School with Fiona Tinwei Lam)

On hungry nights
when you hang in the sky like an empty plate,
let’s pretend you are a mooncake
or a plump rice ball.

On nights we can’t sleep,
you seem most like a sugar cube, corners dissolving
in a cup of black coffee.

Sometimes you’re adorned in white silk,
or the sun’s gold yarn,
or opaque with an icy lake’s grey palette.

Are you lonely? You’re so separate
from the stars, rolling in slow motion
like a single wheel or silver tire
across the night, glinting
like the last shiny bullet in the pistol
of a man pondering suicide.

Some nights, you’re a scythe
or a sickle slicing away darkness.
Other times, a sharp hook holding up the black sky
that blankets this sleepy world.

Maybe you are the eyeball
of a poet staring down at us,
a mirror of our dreams
and nightmares.

But for tonight you are a shy girl
hiding behind the clouds,
suddenly appearing in the dark,
a smiling face.

Both classes also participated in a class exercise to write poems inspired by ordinary objects. After reading one of my odes to ordinary things, “Ode to Chopsticks,” I asked them to choose an item to write about from the array of ordinary objects I’d set out on a desk. With the grade 11 class, I asked them to pretend to take on the character of the object itself, and write as if it were speaking. With the grade 12 class, I asked them to do mind maps first, writing out sensory associations they had with those words (taste, touch, texture, sounds, smells, colours, etc.) before trying to write a short draft poem. I looked at the draft poems that were created afterward. I was delighted at the wonderful, humorous and whimsical pieces that emerged–these objects took on personalities! Here are a few examples from the grade 11 class–one about a tiny yellow canoe, another one about a candle and another about a pine cone (with some moon metaphors on the page behind it).


Poems by Poetry Filmmakers


Hear and see dynamic and diverse poetry filmmakers perform their work on Sunday, November 6th, 7-8:30 pm at People’s Co-op Bookstore! It is wonderful to hold an event at this venerable bookstore which has been in existence at different locations since 1945!

In town for the Poets with a Video Camera: Video Poetry 1980-2020 Exhibit at Surrey Art Gallery, New York-based Adeena Karasick, Wisconsin-based Kurt Heintz and UK-based Sarah Tremlett will be performing alongside landmark Canadian interdisciplinary artists Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H Dugas, and notable locals Heather Haley and curator Tom Konyves. (I have volunteered to emcee.)

Here’s a PDF with links to the poetry filmmakers websites and their poetry videos, some of which they will be presenting on Sunday.

(Curious about the rationale behind poetry videos and how to approach them? See my piece in The Tyee and check out this poetry resource page.)


Adeena Karasick is a NY-based poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of 12 books of poetry and poetics. The most recent is Massaging the Medium7 Pechakuchas, (The Institute of General Semantics Press, 2022). She teaches Literature and Critical Theory at Pratt Institute. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” is located in the Special Collections, Simon Fraser University.   

Daniel H. Dugas is an internationally acclaimed poet, artist, musician and videographer. In 2022, he published his two-volume poetry collection émoji, etc. / emoji, etc., as well as Fundy, the catalogue (co-written with Valerie LeBlanc), for the eponymous videopoetry-based installation. In 2021 he received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for High Achievement in French Literary Arts.

Heather Haley – poet and author – pushes boundaries by creatively integrating disciplines, genres and media. Founder of the Edgewise ElectroLit Centre, curator of the Vancouver Videopoem Festival and Visible Verse at Pacific Cinémathèque, Haley has directed numerous videopoems, with official selections at dozens of international film festivals.

Kurt Heintz was present at the creation of slam poetry in the 1980s. In the 1990s, Heintz brought Telepoetics to the web with L.A. activist Merilene Murphy and Vancouver’s Heather Haley. Heintz founded the e-poets network and has recorded and streamed hundreds of poets, many at Woman Made Gallery (Chicago). And yes, he writes, too!

Matt Mullins makes videopoems and writes poetry, fiction, and screenplays. His videopoems have been screened at festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals. His collection of stories, Three Ways of the Saw, was a finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. Watch his videopoems at: https://vimeo.com/mattmullins  

Sarah Tremlett is a prize-winning poetry film-maker, poet and theorist www.sarahtremlett.com and a director of Liberated Words www.liberatedwords.com. A curator and judge at festivals, her publication The Poetics of Poetry Film has been termed ‘‘A ground-breaking, industry Bible, https://www.intellectbooks.com/the-poetics-of-poetry-film. She will be reading from Tree her family history poetry film project.

Tom Konyves is a writer, poet and videopoetry theorist. Having coined the term videopoetry in 1978, Tom is one of the original pioneers of the form. In 2011, he published a Manifesto, a “definitive guide” which has garnered 20,000+ views from 67 countries. He is the author of six books of poetry and a surrealist novella.

Valerie LeBlanc is a Canadian interdisciplinary artist and writer who has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her subjects include: the human condition, the economy and the environment. Her works travel between videopoetry, fiction, performance, visual and written theory. In 2020, she published her poetry collection Perspectives; followed by Fundy, co-written with Daniel H. Dugas, 2022.

Some Links

Poets with a Video Camera: Video Poetry 1980-2020

Video Poetry Symposium, “Two or Three Things One Should Know About Video Poetry”

A Poetry Resource Page


Spontaneous Poetry Booth in the DTES!

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.)


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.


New Shoots: fostering creative writers in local high schools

There was a wonderful celebration of student writing last night at False Creek Community Centre with the launch of the most recent New Shoots anthology of high school poetry, prose and artwork! New Shoots Coordinator, Erin Biberdorf emceed the student and mentor readings.

Gene Derreth, teacher at Vancouver Technical Secondary, Erin Biberdorf, New Shoots Coordinator, and Logaine Navascués, former New Shoots Coordinator

Ever since 1986, the New Shoots program has sent graduate students from UBC’s School of Creative Writing into Vancouver School Board high school classrooms and student writing clubs to hold 6-8 consecutive workshops on poetry, scriptwriting, comics, and fiction. The harvest? A beautiful annual anthology showcasing student writing and visual art.

​English teacher Ian Macleod, who has been involved in New Shoots for over 20 years (many as a coordinator), informed me in an email that several prominent and award-winning local authors began as either New Shoots participants or mentors. This illustrious list includes Wayde Compton, Nancy Lee, Billeh Nickerson, Madeleine Thien, Charlotte Gill, Andrew Westolle, Kevin Chong and Deborah Campbell, among others.  

I was a mentor myself at New Shoots at Ideal Mini School and my alma mater Eric Hamber Secondary in 2000. I loved the interactions with the keen, creative minds that I encountered in both schools. Some terrific and highly imaginative work emerged from the writing prompts and themes we explored during those workshops.

My friend, colleague and co-instructor at SFU Continuing Studies, Evelyn Lau had poetry published in the New Shoots anthology when she was 13. It was the year before she ran away from home. You can read about what the support from New Shoots and from her high school teachers meant to her, plus read her poem, “Sun” in an article about the New Shoots program in UBC’s Trek Magazine here.

Long live this excellent, longstanding partnership between the VSB and UBC’s School of Creative Writing! May fledgling writers continue to be nurtured and nourished by this fertile educational collaboration!