The art of poetry goes beyond the typical rhyming scheme taught in school and extends to using poetry as a platform to speak out against injustice, create mindful haiku, and project powerful spoken word, all forms practiced by local poets that will be highlighted during National Poetry Month.
The celebration, which began in 1996 in New York City, was adopted in Canada in 1998 to celebrate poetry within Canadian culture.
Giving a voice for the silent
Vancouver-based activist poet, Rita Wong, has been writing poetry most of her life, first publishing a poem in the Calgary Sun as a fourth grader.
“[Poetry] is open to drawing unexpected connections through language, imagery and metaphor,” Wong says. “It gives you a glimpse into the immediate moment, and when you accumulate many of these moments through poems, you start to find clusters of patterns. It cultivates an attentiveness and a care for the world as well as the self.”
Poetry has been a platform for Wong in order to stand up and protect the only world we know. Why? According to Wong, someone has to.
“Poetry has led me to find kindred spirits and to connect with a community that cares about peace, love and justice,” she says.
Her current community, as depicted in the latest anthology downstream: reimagining water co-edited with filmmaker Dorothy Christian, is concerned about the preservation of water and supports the hashtag #WaterIsLife. Wong notes that water is a gift of life and a reminder of how everyone is interconnected. She marvels at the relationship between both the inside world and the outside world. Her poetry is a way to amalgamate the two and shed light on larger issues at hand.
“I’m moved by the sacrifices of the people at Standing Rock protecting the drinking water for millions of people from pollution and desecration from extractive corporations that have no capacity to tell when enough is enough. I’m moved by the beautiful work of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation who have been doing everything from water ceremonies to going to Kinder Morgan’s AGM to tell them the pipeline expansion will never happen,” Wong explains. “Poetry gives me the space to share some of what I’ve learned from water and its guardian communities. [This knowledge] fuses my poetry both directly and indirectly.”
Wong has authored five other books of poetry since 1998: undercurrent, sybil unrest (co-written with Larissa Lai), forage, monkeypuzzle and perpetual.
Simplicity in the moment
Angela Naccarato, founder of the Vancouver Haiku Group (VHG) has been writing and studying haiku for about seven years. Although the traditional Japanese-style haiku has a form of three lines following a 5-7-5 syllabic scheme, the contemporary English way doesn’t typically follow this syllabic feature. Naccarato follows the teaching of Michael Dylan Welch, haiku poet and adjunct poetry professor for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, who wrote about how the Japanese haiku must be converted for the English world.
Naccarato, like Welch, believes the haiku is more than just the structural format, especially when she writes her own haiku.
“I like to be authentic, and I write from a more realistic place,” explains Naccarato. “The realism indicates what’s actually happening in my world at that particular moment.”
During a 2010 haiku workshop in a little Port Moody tea shop, Naccarato spoke with Linda Poole, founder and director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, about the international Haiku Invitation. Poole suggested she contact the Haiku Invitation judge, Michael Dylan Welch, who went on to suggest she start a club. Success followed and the VHG now meets monthly at Britannia Community Services Centre.
The VHG also convenes for a ginkgo, a walk at a central location often selected for its beauty and history for the purpose of writing haiku. The ginkgo that inspired the VHG to prepare their first anthology occurred from a walk through Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
“The garden is like entering another world,” Naccarato says. “The day we went there was a rainy day in spring, and it evoked so many emotions and woke up the senses. The garden is one third of an acre but appears much larger. Like the 12–15 syllable haiku, [something small] has the power to stir the emotions.”
To Ev Montinola, 19, poetry is a form of expression and understanding.
“Most days I have a hard time finding words for how I’m feeling,” they say. “Poetry gives me a way of giving a voice to the part of me that doesn’t really have one.”
Montinola, an LGBTQ+ spoken word artist affiliated with the Vancouver Poetry House stumbled into the art unintentionally. Their interest began in 2012 after watching spoken word artist, Andrea Gibson, perform her work “I Do” but their first performance didn’t come until two years later at Hullabaloo in April 2014. Members from the slam community saw the potential in Montinola, and since then, they have been coaching youth across the Lower Mainland and will be an Active Listener at the Verses Festival of Word.
Their poems are representative of the key parts of Montinola’s life from being a Filipino immigrant to Canada and being comfortable in their own body.
Montinola loves the directness afforded by spoken word. Poetry slam is much more involved, and Montinola thrives in that community.
“With spoken word, the audience is in front of you, and most of the time, you get feedback immediately after saying a line,” says Montinola. “Whether the reaction is snaps, yells, or groans, you know what the audience is feeling when you speak, and it’s the most validating thing to hear them react with you.”
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