Western Canada’s literary scene teems with talent, from neophytes to award-laden laureates. Writers of every facet share and converge in person, print, online and on airwaves. This is not a list of reading groups or events. It’s subjective, personal experience – people and places where prose, poetry and lyrics are created and performed. Join me as we explore western Canada’s creative lit scene from the ground up, bedrock-solid yet perpetually in motion. Like our imminent coastal quake, my epicentre is BC’s southwest. For now.
A Literary Rooftop Garden
Muted sun fought low cloud, doing its best to cheer the city mid-winter. I’d just come from a lunchtime poetry reading at SFU’s Vancouver campus and was making my way to the Central Library’s rooftop deck, home of the Yosef Wosk Poet’s Corner. I had two books in hand, both new to me, the Fiona Tinwei Lam edited Love Me True and Evelyn Lau’s Living Under Plastic.
These gifted poets are mentors and friends. At least I consider them my friends. They may not care for me at all. They often read together and share instructor duties, leading SFU poetry courses. They’re mistaken for one other. Introducing herself in class, Lam said with a laugh, “I’m the other Asian one.”
Lau once asked me, “Why do people confuse the two of us?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Racism?”
“What do you know about racism?” she said.
“Are you kidding?” I said, “My people invented it.”
The lunchtime reading was one of a monthly series put on by the university, held in the Teck Gallery, an airy space overlooking Burrard Inlet and North Shore mountains, this day adorned in a confectioner’s dusting of fresh snow. Staff members scrambled to assemble more seating, the room filled with an array of writers and fans. Along with university staff and poetry lovers on lunch breaks, there were SFU poetry students, writers from the Downtown Eastside Writers’ Collective, and I visited with Kevin Spenst, co-host of Vancouver Co-Op Radio’s Wax Poetic.
Lau kicked off the reading, her depth of verse reinforcing why she was three-year Vancouver Poet Laureate. From the intensity of relationships and raw life experience to the relatable levity of bodily deterioration, soft-spoken Lau captured the room of eighty before passing the baton to Lam, who peppered the group with succinct brilliance in her unique blend of insight and humour. To finish, Lam shared one of her innovative multi-media poetry films, stimulating mash-up with a global message.
I finished my climb to the Central Library’s ninth floor and the outdoor garden space of Poet’s Corner. Just beyond the crown-like dome of BC Place, False Creek reaches toward East Van. Seawall borders the water, a mix of brick and asphalt I enjoy walking with Lau, where her commemorative display fronts the marina. On our walks we laugh and commiserate while I hope to absorb a whiff of her genius. Now, I was sitting with a volume of Lau’s work by her white metal branch on a faux tree installation. The setting fit. A few rays of sun, some gloomy cloud, view intermittently open and obscured. I read her voice, marvelling at how inanimate sculpture can breathe, and propagate.
(First published in St@nza Magazine by the League of Canadian Poets.)