Western Canada’s literary scene teems with talent, from neophytes to award-laden laureates. Authors of every facet share spoken word, competitive slam, and rapier-sharp contemporary as writers and fans converge in person, print, online and on airwaves. This is not a list of writing/reading groups or events. It’s subjective, personal experience – people and places where prose, poetry and lyrical verse are created and performed. Join me as we explore the country’s lit scene from the ground up, bedrock-solid and perpetually in motion. Like our imminent left coast quake, my epicentre is BC’s southwest. For now.
Evelyn Lau, Fiona Lam, SFU and VPL
Muted sun fights low cloud, doing its best to cheer the city mid-winter. I’ve just come from a weekday lunchtime poetry reading at SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus and am making my way to the Central Library’s rooftop deck, home of the Yosef Wosk Poet’s Corner. I have 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, then co-host of Co-Op Radio’s weekly 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 finish 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 creative gift. Now I sit with a volume of Lau’s work by her white metal branch on a faux tree installation. It feels fitting. A few rays of sun, some gloomy cloud, view intermittently open and obscured. I read her voice and marvel at how inanimate sculpture can breathe, and propagate.
Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Dromomania, Wonderful Magical Words and producer of Bill’s Artist Showcase. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s work is published in Canada, US, UK, Europe and Asia. His Beat column is published by the League of Canadian Poets and the Federation of BC Writers. Bill has a 2019 poetry prize from Pandora’s Collective, is a RYGA National Songwriting Finalist, and is a 2019 Whistler Independent Book Awards Finalist with Gone Viking: A Travel Saga.