A tenth birthday’s no big deal. Sure, you hit double digits, but it’s not like when you become a teenager or get into those high, round decades people lie about. Unless, of course, you’re a poetry group that convenes in a gallery. Then it’s a very big deal. Pandora’s Collective is one of those, a remarkable group lead by Bonnie Nish.
Pandora’s has been sharing successful events around Greater Vancouver for over twenty years. It’s a true collective, not only running but promoting a host of writing-inspired events in the city and beyond: Victoria’s Planet Earth Poetry, Surrey Muse, Poets Corner Reading Series, New Westminster’s RCLAS, TWS readings, Zero to 360, the Downtown Eastside Writers Collective, SFU’s Lunch Poems, Burnaby’s Spoken INK, Co-op Radio’s Wax Poetic, the Word Whip Series, Twisted Poets, and ten years of poetry readings in the Zack Gallery at Vancouver’s Jewish Community Centre, with support from the Waldman Library and Yosef Wosk. And how did they celebrate their tenth birthday? Well, with a poetry reading, of course. But not just any poetry reading. A big one!
This particular night a decade was celebrated with an ekphrastic-inspired exhibit and readings. Twenty prominent Vancouver poets formed ten duos to write and read new work inspired by featured photos and paintings at the JCC Zack Gallery: Heidi Greco and Timothy Shay, Sita Carboni and Leanne Boschman, Kevin Spenst and Amanda Wardrop, Bonnie herself along with Mary Duffy, Rosemary Nowicki and Christy Hill, Jude Neale and Lindsay Kwan, Fran Bourassa and David Geary, JC Cortens and Candice James, Natasha Boskic and Angela Rebrec, as well as Kyle Hawke with Chelsea Comeau. Featured artists – muses to the poets – were: Michael Seelig, Jack Rootman, Ira Hoffecker, Claudine Pommier, Larry Green, Olga Campbell, Robin Atlas, Carl Rothschild, Ian Penn, and Ivor Levin.
Bonnie Nish in action is akin to the Greek goddess namesake-trickster who disseminated hot fire amongst mortals. (Isn’t all fire hot?) Not that kind of hot. Although, yes, it was. Pandora’s fire was, like, stolen hot. So, hot hot you could say, without redundancy. And man, can that goddess disperse fire. I’m talking about Bonnie now. New poems sizzled and sparked through the gallery, a fiery incandescence of creativity. I was seriously worried (and I couldn’t have been the only one) the sprinkler system was going to be triggered. I lost most of my eyebrows in the backdraft. People said I look surprised. But Pandora herself (the much older, Greek one) would’ve been proud – surveying the room with a Jim Carrey green-mask smile. Smokin’!
There was food, camaraderie and a hum of enthusiasm in the packed room amongst a stunning array of artwork. Funds were raised through donations and sales of the newly published Celebrating Ten Years: Poetry & Art – Sydney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, a well-blended feature of select poems and corresponding visual art. All in all, a great celebration, showcased through supportive collaboration. It was a pleasure being part of it. No excess sugar meltdowns that I could see. And with this series, I’m actually looking forward to the teenage years.
Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Dromomania and Gone Viking. Bill’s Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. His poetry is featured in Literary Yard Journal, Eunoia Review, Authors Publish, MOON Magazine, Eskimo Pie, BPR, Scars Publications, Down in the Dirt, Plum Tree Tavern, Ekphrastic Review, Lighten Up, Dawntreader, New Reader Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Corvus Review, PLAY UK and LCP Heartwood anthologies, with a 2019 poetry prize from Pandora’s Collective and WIBA 2019 nomination. Bill’s column Poetry Beat is published by the League of Canadian Poets and the Federation of BC Writers.