It was wonderful to bring in the Year of the Tiger and celebrate the resilience of the Chinatown and Asian Canadian communities with two online events! In the early afternoon, Bruno Dias, Communications, Engagement and Events Manager at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, emceed an hour-long reading featuring six local poets: Catherine Lewis, Isabella Wang, James Wang, Lucy Yang, Jaeyun Yoo and myself. We read and discussed an array of poems about love, feasting, family, ancestors, dinosaurs and more that you can listen to on the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden’s YouTube channel here.
In the evening, Todd Wong hosted his annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy banquet which celebrates both Robbie Burns Day and the Lunar New Year. Todd and Elwin Xie showed video clips about the new Chinatown Storytelling Centre, as well as an excerpt of the new Chinatown opera that premieres with City Opera this fall. Most of the performers were live on stage at Floata restaurant in Chinatown while the audience watched online. (I zoomed in to read “Ode to the Plate.”) There were terrific music performances throughout (vocal, guitar, violin, and of course bagpipes), plus a great reading by Janie Chang from her novel, Library of Legends. Floata provided special haggis dumplings and other delicacies for take-out.
I met with high school poet laureate, Maggie Yang, who is presently in grade ten at York House School. We met on January 22 and she told me about York House’s poet laureate selection process and program which has been running for a few years. (There is an open call within the school. Applicants submit a poem on a selected topic. Faculty decide on the best candidate before the end of the school year. The new poet laureate commences her/their term at the start of the following school year. Laureates are expected to write and read poems at assemblies and other special school events, as well as initiate other projects.)
This past September, Maggie led a Truth & Reconciliation event at her school to write in response to poems by Indigenous poets, and will leading another initiative in April for Poetry Month. She edits a beautiful literary magazine, Pluvia, and leads a creative writing club. She tells me she’s really enjoying reading US youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman’s debut collection, Call Us What We Carry .
I’m looking forward to doing more brainstorming with Maggie in the months ahead, and visiting her Pen & Book writing club.
If any high school students or teachers are interested in discussing a poet laureate program in their school, please send me an email!
On January 20, 2022, I visited the Downtown Eastside Writers Collective for their weekly Thursday gathering at the Carnegie Centre. Led by member Gilles Cyrenne, the group writes together in response to writing prompts, and then shares their work. This time, we focused on specific sites in Vancouver. I set out a number of images of historic Vancouver sites for them to choose to write about (each image had a descriptive paragraph on the back). I also brought some wonderful map guides of Chinatown, the Japanese area of downtown and the west side of downtown produced by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. The brochures included photos of specific heritage buildings and their historical background. I ended the session with a discussion of how poetry differs from prose in the use of imagery, sound and structure, and ways of varying lines to engage readers.
Last November when I visited the group, we used the prompts “home” and “not home”, which led to some powerful draft pieces. At the end of that session, I shared some pointers about revising poems.
By the way, the Carnegie Centre is one of Vancouver’s historic heritage buildings. Did you know there’s a stained glass window featuring three legendary English poets of note?
December 8 and 17, I visited Lee’s Socials 10 Class at Windemere Secondary School. Very engaged and articulate students there, led by a committed and enthusiastic instructor! I showed a number of photographs of historic Vancouver sites, including the Renfrew Ravine nearby which their school had played a key role in restoring years ago, and encouraged the students to write about them. On the 17th, the class was divided into three groups to write a collective poem to reimagine Vancouver, using the prompt, “Imagine a city that…”
On Dec 18, I visited Tanja Boteju’s English class at York House School through Poetry in Voice, the wonderful national organization established by the Griffin Foundation, focusing on performance. I offered some tips, and then led students in an exercise to find texture and colour in the text of their own poems, and then practice them in groups of two. At the end of the class, three talented students performed their poems. Tanja is an amazing and successful published writer of several books in her own right.
On December 10, I had the pleasure of going out to my alma mater, UBC, to talk to student teachers in Language and Literacy classes in the Faculty of Education taught by Professor Kedrick James and Dr. Bonnie Nish, both of whom are local published poets of note. I informed everyone about the upcoming Poet Laureate’s City Poems Contest, and we tried out some writing prompts using images of historic sites. This was an opportune time to visit student teachers, right before the January practicum period. Thank you to Bonnie and Kedrick for their gracious invitation, and to the student teachers who participated in the writing exercises.