Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

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May 17, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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Vancouver Poetry Crawl: A Recap

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3-Kevin's work

by Zoe Welch

The inside/outside continuum is interesting: what’s public, what’s private—where the boundary lies between the two. Where does one side of these spaces end and the other begin? In the unhappiest city in Canada, where a sense of belonging and our community connections are weak, these questions matter.

On April 25th, my Mount Pleasant neighbours and friends Terry Plummer and Owen Plummer opened up their apartment as the first stop on the Vancouver Poetry Crawl 2015 — an inventive, silly, meaningful, and dead serious event organized and led by Vancouver poet Kevin Spenst.

3-Kevin's work

The Vancouver Poetry Crawl was a day-long event involving a collective meander through Vancouver neighbourboods connecting ten venues where 18 poets read their work. Here’s the roster:

4-itinerary

The day launched with a ukulele performance by Terry Plummer and Tara Embree who wowed us with duets from Johnny Cash to the Velvet Underground. Then the poetry started.

8-Terry n Tara 

When we headed off to the next venue, thanks to some cohesive neighbourbood design, bike paths, and a well-planned itinerary (and no rain), the Crawl was a comfortable roll and stroll to destinations nearby. I walked with a few of the poets, following along little behind the ones biking.

9-poets roll

Kevin had arranged the readings with all these art galleries who graciously opened up their doors to an external, seemingly unrelated, event. In these inspirational and creative settings, some poets carefully took their place in front of visual art pieces that connected to them, and their work ….

Equinox Gallery

11-poets turn corner

13-Equinox-Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Monte Clark Gallery

17-Monte Clark-Jeremy Stewart

18-Monte Clark-Jeremy Stewart 2

In each venue gallery visitors unaware of the Crawl became part of it, joining with us in the various spaces we inhabited, all of us becoming a bit like Readymades together. Everyone welcome, everyone integral. So, while technically in a private space – a gallery – we remained public, and open. This struck me as very interesting, because a few days prior, when Kevin was in Surrey for readings at his high school alma mater and the Surrey Arts Centre, he began a brief, impromptu reading inside the SFU Surrey atrium, where security threatened to arrest him.

Grunt Gallery

23-Grunt-Mariner Janes

This also got me thinking about the notion of the pop-up, the new term for transitory places, for something we once called guerrilla (think guerrilla gardening and guerrilla radio), and before that Dadaism (something that today would probably be framed as disruptive, a term and concept that Dadists themselves would find repulsive).

While these three iterations of the “spontaneous” share the trait of things temporary (albeit, to varying degrees well-planned in advance), today’s pop-up tends toward the commercial in nature – where what’s proposed is something material and for sale – while its two antecedents tended to propose ideas and experiences meant to elude the permanence that acquisition suggests, challenging the very ideas, norms and values of a society organized around acquisition. As it turns out, the elder manifestations were onto something: it’s the impermanent experiences, the things that make memories (rather than the made things we buy in the material world), that bring us more meaning, and more happiness.

(Listen up Vancouver.)

The Crawl was a bit ahead of schedule, so we stopped in at the Brassneck for a quick brew. One of Kevin’s poems is titled Brassneck, and so there, in the thick of this private place, Kevin introduced the public realm—he leapt up and recited the poem to the room. He wasn’t arrested, or threatened with arrest, and he wasn’t politely shown the door. He was listened to and applauded.

28-Brassneck-2 Kevin+Brassneck

With pop-ups popping up everywhere, from hotdogs to hats, some called this a pop-up poem, but not me, and here’s why: this was a freeform generosity offered to everyone there, drawing people together in a shared experience that couldn’t be bought; it gave us all a moment and a memory; something we all received, and in some ways created, together, but not something any of us could purchase and cart home to own. In this collective experience we found ourselves within a place of social connectedness, another core ingredient of happiness, and something we need here in Vancouver.

At the Grunt, one of Mariner Janes’s poems contained the line, how we fit into the city or don’t. This line resonates with me, with my interest in what makes Vancouver such a hard place to live, a place, it turns out, that’s alienating and unhappy for many. If we’re going to fit in, we need things to fit into—beyond the scope of the private enterprises of home and work. Like Terry and Owen showed us, and like all the galleries along the Crawl, and like the Brassneck did too, private spaces can also be opened to involve the public, to welcome the impromptu and the collective, blurring the lines between what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside. Or, more precisely, and more importantly, blurring the lines between who’s on the outside and who’s on the inside.

So, perhaps, initially, it isn’t so much a question of a physical space, as a psychic one—that is, one to do with the mind, spirit and soul: about an interior space that seeks to involve us and others together in an experience that connects us, and that can’t be bought. From there, might form follow function?

Full list of poets featured in this post below:

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