The pandemic forced the literary community to find new ways of connecting with our communities and readers, and in the early days of the pandemic, Fiona Tinwei Lam helped develop what has becoming one of our most popular online programs: In/Verse. In the fall, Fiona passed the hosting duties over to Susan Alexander. The Federaiton of BC Writers invited Fiona to share some wisdom and reflections on poetry and her time hosting In/Verse.
Federation of BC Writers: What character from a book or movie do you most identify with?
What book has lingered with you the longest?
What was it about poetry that originally drew you in?
From when I first started reading poetry on my own in seventh grade, I loved poetry’s concision and its music, how it could convey so much depth and meaning in a few lyrical lines.
When poetry is read well, the music of the words (alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, half-rhyme, etc.) paired with the use of silence, breath, subtle vocal dynamics and coloration, rhythm, pacing, and tone can amplify the imagery and structure of the poem, making it even more memorable. The background anecdotes that often precede the reading also add a lot of context to the poem.
How do poetry readings inspire your own work?
How did you approach curating the In/Verse events?
Jackie Carmichael, president of the BC Federation of Writers at the time, was keen on expanding the online presence of the federation during the pandemic. I was very impressed with her interview of marvelous local poet, Junie Desil, and so I offered to assist with an online poetry series. She showed me the ropes and encouraged me to take it on, which I did for 13 months from September 2020 to September 2021, bringing together poets of varying styles, approaches and backgrounds. I wanted to be as inclusive as possible and invited poets with debut books (e.g. Jillian Christmas, Francine Cunningham, Tolu Ọlọ́runtọ́ba, Daniel Cowper and Tara Borin), mid-career authors (e.g. Hasan Namir, Joanna Lilley, Renee Sarojini Saklikar and Kevin Spenst), as well as senior established poets (e.g. Patrick Friesen, Cecily Nicholson, Fred Wah, and Evelyn Lau).
During the height of the pandemic, I was very keen to showcase as many local poets as possible, to support their work and their books when live launches, readings and reading series were cancelled across the board. So I ambitiously tried to program four poets for each monthly reading. I learned after several months that the pacing was better with just three poets per reading. It gave the poets a bit more time to read a few more poems, and gave us all more time for conversation and discussion. I still had to keep very close watch on the clock, but alleviated some of the time pressure. I certainly learned to become more adept with using an online platform! I was so appreciative of the tech help provided at each reading either by BC Fed Executive Director Brian Mortenson or board member, Ian Cognito. They were indispensable in ensuring each event flowed smoothly.
What do you/will you miss about hosting In/Verse?
I loved supporting other poets in getting the word out about their work, and enjoyed meeting some of them for the first time to tell them about how much I admired their poetry. I enjoyed the rapport, and sharing insights about writing poetry.
My recent essay, “Giving Voice to Your Words” for Resonance: Essays on The Craft and Life of Writing (eds. Andrew Chesham & Laura Farina, Anvil Press, 2022) focused on three main points that I also teach in the course I co-teach at SFU Continuing Studies with Evelyn Lau: be aware, be gracious, be prepared. It’s essential to be punctual, to stay within your time limit, to be aware of your surroundings, to rehearse your poems multiple times in advance in order to fine-tune your phrasing and vocal dynamics, and most importantly to connect to your audience
What’s inspiring the work you’re doing these days?
The City Poems poetry video project has inspired me to want to do more poetry video collaborations of my own. I squeezed in two short collaborations this summer: “Merry,” a short animated poetry video with two student animators about plastic consumption and pollution, and “Neighbourhood,” a live action video with two US filmmakers about people’s disconnection, denial and obliviousness in face of the climate crisis. I’m currently working on another animated poetry video with a student filmmaker about redaction vs creation based on my poem, “Un/Write."
For more information about In/Verse click here.
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