When I was initially approached about
writing for periodicities’ Notes from the Field, my first thought was:
“I can’t wait to tell everyone about all the fabulous poetry goings-on in Vancouver! There are so many amazing events I want to mention!”
My second thought was:
“I will NEVER be able to capture all the poetry goings-on in Vancouver. I can’t possibly talk about everything going on without cloning myself—there are so many events I haven’t even had the chance to check out yet.”
The truth is, being a poet in Vancouver involves year-round FOMO, for our busy arts calendar barely decelerates in winter. For everyone who hasn’t been here yet, Vancouver is nestled between ski-hill mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Below-freezing temperatures and snow are winter anomalies which aren’t our standard winter fare.
One major source of my perpetual poet FOMO is Massy Arts Society. Hosting several arts events each week, from poetry readings to writing workshops, Massy Arts Society is a not-for-profit community hub located in Vancouver’s Chinatown, a few blocks from its primary funding source, the beloved Indigenous-owned independent bookstore Massy Books. You’ll spot me at Massy Arts Society a few times a month, admiring the ever-changing art on its gallery walls, and swiping my credit card at book launches to continue overstuffing my TBR bookshelves.
Highlights among recent Massy Arts Society events I’ve attended:
· Jónína Kirton’s Métis Kitchen Party reading, featuring Métis poets Michelle Poirier Brown, Délani Valin, and Isabelle Hébert, and where we all surprised Jónína with a Happy Birthday sing-along! I can still taste that event’s complimentary frybread.
· Launch events for recent issues of Room Magazine and UBC Creative Writing’s PRISM international.
· Staceyann Chin’s Restorative Writing Workshop to wrap up Black Futures Month.
· A poetry reading curated by Andrew French, where Andrew and I read alongside Tolu Oloruntoba and Natalie Lim.
· Poetry book launch events for Hasan Namir’s Umbilical Cord, Isabella Wang’s Pebble Swing, Ellie Sawatzky’s None of This Belongs to Me, Carlie Blume’s Gigglepuss, David Ly’s Dream of Me as Water, Steffi Tad-y’s From the Shoreline, Tyler Pennock’s Blood, Justene Dion-Glowa’s Trailer Park Shakes, and Manahil Bandukwala’s Monument. For out-of-province authors, Vancouver is a never-forgotten stop on a West Coast book tour. Poets all across the country are family anyway, right?
Upcoming Massy Arts Society poetry events include the April 2nd launch of fanny kearse’s debut book Umi’s Prayer, plus an April three-part online poetry workshop Chasing The Poem, with this series being conducted by Indigenous poets Jónína Kirton, annie ross, and Justene Dion-Glowa.
Every October, tens of thousands of attendees take over Granville Island for Vancouver Writers Fest’s flagship literary festival. Annual poetry highlights include The Poetry Bash event and the Blending Genres event, where Vancouver Manuscript Intensive presents the VMI Betsy Warland Between Genres Award to a book that straddles multiple genres; this year’s contest judge is poet Chantal Gibson.
From January to June, Vancouver Writers Fest hosts in-person Incite events which are simultaneously livestreamed. Next up on their poetry calendar is Poetry for This World on April 5th, featuring Jen Currin, Conor Kerr, and Sheryda Warrener, moderated by Bronwen Tate.
Every September, Word Vancouver hosts a weekend of festival programming featuring writers from across the country, and including the launch of that year’s Poetry in Transit project, which exhibits different local poems on TransLink and BC Transit vehicles every year. Word Vancouver also features a Guest Indigenous Curator and a Guest LGBTQ2S+ Curator each year. At a Word Vancouver 2022 panel organized by Guest LGBTQ2S+ Curator David Ly, I read alongside fellow queer chapbook authors Patrick Grace, kitchen mckeown, and Victoria Mbabazi.
Vancouver’s current Poet Laureate Fiona Tinwei Lam (one of my first Creative Writing instructors) has been exceptionally busy for the first half of her 2022-2024 term, hosting workshops in schools and in parks, as well as organizing a City Poems contest for youth, emerging poets, and established poets (with over 250 entries in total), that has culminated in a poetry video contest. I often spy Fiona as a fellow audience member at events around town!
Lunch Poems at SFU takes place the third Wednesday lunch hour of every month, alternating between in-person at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre campus vs. virtually over Zoom. Upcoming featured readers include Jónína Kirton and Tanaz Roudgar (April 19), and Megan Fennya Jones and Kim Trainor (May 17).
The Poets Corner Reading Series takes place on the third Wednesday evening of every month as a hybrid event, both in person at Fairleigh Dickinson University and virtually over Zoom, and always including an open mic. Upcoming featured readers include Jan Zwicky and Jane Munro (April 19), Gary Geddes and Alice Major (May 17), and Derek Beaulieu and Jordan Scott (June 21).
With Lunch Poems taking place just hours before Poets Corner every month, I sometimes run into the same fellow audience members twice in the same day!
If you’re willing to head out into the suburbs, Poetry in the Park is a summer reading series hosted in a stunning outdoor amphitheatre by New Westminster’s Royal City Literary Arts Society. Last August, I had the opportunity to read here alongside Gigglepuss author Carlie Blume.
Having recently pivoted back to in-person events at Surrey Library, the Surrey Muse Arts Society includes a featured poet and open-mic time at each of their monthly events.
As for our spoken word scene, Vancouver Poetry House hosts the Vancouver Poetry Slam series every Monday night in hybrid format (both in-person and over Zoom), with a diverse slate of feature readers, and always including open-mic time.
Every April, Vancouver Poetry House hosts the week-long Verses Festival of Words, which features performance workshops and the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam competition, where two dozen slam poets from across the country battle to be crowned CIPS champion.
In December, the Vancouver Poetry House special event Excerpts showcased portions of full-length poetic performances in development. As soon as VPH Artistic Director Johnny D. Trinh momentarily switched to our shared ancestral tongue Cantonese as part of his queer Chinese-/Vietnamese-diasporic performance, fellow audience member Fiona Tinwei Lam and I instantly swapped glances across the auditorium aisle, for I was so moved that I nearly burst into tears.
Four times a year, RC Weslowski presents Mashed Poetics, a spoken word and music mash-up event, interspersing songs performed by a live band, with poets reading their new poems inspired by these songs. Audience members (myself included) are sometimes inspired to dance in the aisles! RC also hosts the radio show Wax Poetic, where he interviews different poets each week.
Over the past year, Vancouver Pride Society has hosted outdoor poetry slam events such as last July’s Queer Poetry Slam (featuring Jillian Christmas, and marking my first time on the poetry slam stage), and a Black Queer Poetry Slam (featuring Staceyann Chin) for Black History Month this past February.
I know that as soon as I’ve fired this note off, yet another reading series or event will spring to mind, so apologies if I’ve missed you or your series! As for all the other local events, venues, and featured readers I haven’t had the chance to see yet, I hope to get to you soon!
It is with immense gratitude that I live and work as a settler on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
Catherine Lewis is a writer and poet of Hong Kong Chinese descent. Her debut poetry chapbook Zipless (845 Press) is a finalist in the Poetry category at the 2021 Bisexual Book Awards, where Catherine is also a finalist for Bi Writer of the Year. Her work has been published in The Humber Literary Review, Pulp Literature, and Plenitude Magazine, and is forthcoming in PRISM international and The Fiddlehead. Shortlisted for Pulp Literature’s Magpie Award for Poetry and longlisted for Surrey Muse’s Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction, she has been shortlisted in creative nonfiction contests hosted by The Fiddlehead and Room Magazine. A graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and of the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive, Catherine is a Banff Centre Literary Arts alumna. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, she lives in Vancouver on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Catch her on Twitter or Instagram at @cat_writes_604 or at www.catherinewriter.com.