Worth More Standing: a poetic homage to the world’s trees

Poets paid homage to trees on beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon beside an organic farm and heritage buildings among stands of Douglas Fir at the Ta’talu Festival, held at the A Rocha Environmental Centre in the Hazelmere Valley along the Little Campbell River in Surrey.

Nine of us read from a very special new anthology, Worth More Standing: Poets & Activists Pay Homage to Trees (Caitlin Press, 2022). Trevor Carolan, Bibiana Tomasic, Daniela Elza, Jacqueline Pearce, Calvin Wharton, Susan McCaslin, Renee Saklikar, Heidi Greco and I read poems in honour of trees and forests. There were also musical performances by the Hazelmere Heritage Fiddlers, Celtic songster Marlowe Ferris and The Mountain Dew musical duo.

During this family-friendly festival, people could take tours of the grounds. Artists had their easels set up. On sale were organic farm produce, delectable homemade baked goods and colourful bouquets of local flowers, as well as delicious bannock, crepes, and pizza offerings from nearby food stands.

Thank you to organizer and host/emcee Heidi Greco for all her efforts to organize the reading at this wonderful local festival. For decades, she has advocated for poetry and poets, plus fostered poetry-writing in varied community settings for writers of diverse backgrounds. She is a true poetry pillar!


Voices of the Street on the Climate Crisis

The incredible team at Megaphone Magazine organized the launch of their annual Voices of the Street anthology on Wednesday! This collection focuses on the theme of the climate crisis.

The week before the event, I enjoyed meeting the readers during a workshop on effective performance tips that I co-facilitated with my colleague, Wax Poetic Host, RC Weslowski at the request of Megaphone staffer, Holly Sakaki.

The launch at SFU Woodward’s unfolded with moving readings and speeches by James Witwicki, Horace Daychief/Bear Whisperer, Henry Doyle, JT Sandu, Ghia Aweida, Yvonne Mark, Peter Thompson, Stephen Scott, Gilles Cyrenne, and Louise Boilevin.

Yvonne Mark read a piece about her childhood and talked about the transformative influence of Megaphone.

I felt honoured to be asked to say a few words of commendation for the readers and the Megaphone team. I also read a tree poem from my last book, one that is reprinted in the tree anthology, Worth More Standing, edited by Tofino Poet Laureate Christine Lowther. It alludes to a history of deforestation and short-sighted logging practices, and the urgent need to protect our precious rainforests in face of the relentless pace of the climate crisis.

Megaphone staff and volunteers were cheering the readers on, alongside a warm and receptive audience of supporters. It was a wonderful and special evening.


Grade 7 Class Writes Moving Poems about Hogan’s Alley

I visited teacher Tilia Prior’s terrific and talented grade seven class today at Tecumseh Elementary School to thank them for submitting poems about Hogan’s Alley to the City Poems Contest!

The entire class of 25 students learned about this historic and significant Black community in Strathcona that was gutted in the late 1960s by the municipal government’s freeway plan to modernize transportation routes. Strong community resistance prevented the plan from being fully implemented, but the Georgia Viaduct was still built, razing Black homes and businesses.

Tilia Prior was inspired by acclaimed local writer and instructor, Wayde Compton, who was doing daily tweets with facts about Hogan’s Alley during Black History Month this past February. She showed the class poetry videos and short documentaries about the area too, and encouraged every student to write and submit a poem for the contest. She taught them about various poetic techniques such as repetition and alliteration.

As a result, the poems were moving, thoughtful, and written with care. Vivid images rose from the pages. It is incredible how poetry works like a magic spell to bridge time and place: here were students born long after the demise of Hogan’s Alley, who were not Black, who may never have even visited that part of town, learning about and empathizing with Black residents of the era. In fact, student Sharon Pan’s poem about Vie’s chicken House won third place in the youth category!

An interesting fact to note about Tecumseh Elementary School is that Vancouver School Board’s first Asian Canadian teacher, Vivian Jung, was hired by the school in the 1940s. Over half a century of racial segregation had prevented Asian Canadians, Blacks, and other visible minorities from various professions. But the activism of Jung and her classmates led to a breakthrough in 1945.

She taught at Tecumseh as a beloved teacher for 35 years. A lane is named after her in Vancouver’s West End, near the former “public” Crystal Pool (long gone) at Sunset Beach where she was famously barred from entry.

(Some Canadians might not be aware that segregation wasn’t just a US phenomenon. Racial segregation was actively practiced in Vancouver, in BC, and elsewhere in Canada at that time—in “public” pools, movie theatres, restaurants, hospitals, housing, civic employment, and more.)

It was cool to see this kind of interracial solidarity being forged in the present about the injustice faced by the community of Hogan’s Alley in the past, paralleling the interracial solidarity that Vivian Jung and her classmates marshalled back in 1945. Kudos to Tilia Prior and her amazing grade seven class!


Primary School Poets Rock!

It was really fun to celebrate poetry with primary school poets from University Hill Elementary with teachers Kate Sian Foreman-Ng and Andrea McEwen! The two classes both sent in poems about Pacific Spirit Park to the City Poems Contest!

After I talked about what a poet laureate is and does, I showed them some examples of my concrete poems since they had been working on concrete poems in class too. Some of the students came to the front to read their work! I bestowed a special honourable mention certificate to each of the two classes for sending in their poems to the contest.

Afterward, Kate’s class celebrated the unveiling of Morning Chirps, Morning Songs, a wonderful compilation of students’ work. Proud parents listened intently as their kids pointed out their poems and illustrations. I was very honoured to receive a copy too, which students came up to sign. You can find out more on Teacher Kate’s blog.


Winners Announced For City Poems Contest!

There was a hum of anticipation and excitement in the room as winners of the Vancouver Poet Laureate’s City Poems Contest were announced at an afternoon ceremony today at the Vancouver Public Library! 

Back in January, I invited members of the public to submit poems that related in a significant way to a historical, cultural or ecological site within the City of Vancouver or UBC Endowment Lands, and that could provide a greater understanding of its origins or multilayered history.  252 poems in total were submitted about a wide range of sites all over the city and endowment lands, including parks, schools, streets, historic neighbourhoods and buildings, and much more.

The Vancouver Public Library staff did an amazing job preparing for the event, displaying all the shortlisted poems, and setting up tables with books about Vancouver’s history as well as collections of Vancouver-based poems.

There was a full house too—a warm and receptive audience of teachers, family, friends and writers that listened attentively to the readings of the winning poems.

Established Category (for those who have previously published a book of poetry):

  • First Place: Susan Alexander, “Seńákw” for Seńákw commonly known as Vanier Park
  • Second Place: Leslie Timmins, “The Modest Contribution of Babies to the Protest at the Member of Parliament’s Office” for Khatsahlano Beach, commonly known as Kitsilano Beach
  • Third Place:  Kelsey Andrews, “To the Otter Who Snuck into the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden and Ate the Koi” for Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Susan Alexander
Leslie Timmins
Kelsey Andrews

Emerging Poets Category:

  • First Place: Jeremy Chu, “Entertainment” for The Marco Polo Restaurant: 90 East Pender Street
  • Second Place: Theresa Rogers, “the stone artist” about Stanley Park Seawall
  • Third Place: Donna Seto, “Contrasts” about Chinatown
Jeremy Chu
Theresa Rogers
Donna Seto

Youth Category (high school or younger):

  • First Place:  Adrian Yue (Grade 9, Eric Hamber Secondary), “ending credits for an ending of chinatown” for Chinatown
  • Second Place: Isabel Hernandez-Cheng (Grade 8, York House), “Lotus Flower” for Chinatown
  • Third Place: Sharon Pan (Grade 7, Tecumseh Elementary School), “Home at Vie’s” for Hogan’s Alley in Strathcona
Adrian Yue
Isabel Hernandez-Cheng
Sharon Pan

The three judges were former Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose (Established Poets Category), local poet and editor, David Ly (Emerging Poets Category), and educator and Word Vancouver Executive Director Dr. Bonnie Nish (Youth Category).  First place winners received $300, second place winners $200, and third place winners $100.  All winners and runners up  also have the opportunity to have their poems turned into a poetry video in the second stage of the contest for student filmmakers.