Lunch Poems at SFU: how it all began, a few thoughts to mark two years of poetry at SFU Harbour Centre
Third Wednesday of the month, from noon to 1pm, you’ll find me front row listening to poets, down in the light filled gallery, main floor, SFU Harbour Centre. Later, on the Skytrain ride back to my office, I will be a-buzz with the sound-memory of poetry read and spoken. Skytrain riding is great for reflection and the rumble roar of the train, helps with time-shifting, especially if you get on at Waterfront, and get a seat!
One of my favourite lunch poems memory: December, 2012, I’m on the Skytrain, riding Waterfront to Kingsway, my brain full of the cadences of After Jack, by Garry Thomas Morse. Each time I hear our lunch poets, I’m reminded about what it takes to delve and live fully within a poetic practice: the poets are that accomplished. Lunch Poems at SFU embraces a wide range: from Evelyn Lau to Fred Wah, from Stephen Collis to Rachel Rose, from Rahat Kurd to Billeh Nickerson and many more…the pairing of poets, like the work of a fine sommelier, entrusted to our colleague, Wayde Compton, Director of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio. Another memory…
November, 2011. Evening at the Hotel Vancouver. At my dinner table, Shauna Sylvester, with that enthusiasm that transmits energy, asks me about writing poetry. Shauna says: “Hey, why don’t you come read some poems?” We think about when I might do this and realize: lunch time works!
December, 2011. SFU Harbour Centre. Lunch poems proto-type event. We are in a room, painted grey-green. I read some of my poetry and open my reading with a beloved City Light Pocket Poet book, Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara—sweet square orange and blue cover calling, take me out for lunch. (Frank O’Hara’s book, now in its 50th anniversary edition, was recently re-issued by wonderful City Lights Books)
That December day our audience includes poets, workers, students, one former provincial premier who is also a writer. We share poems. We are all, we realize, poem-crazy. We gather ourselves up into a committee. And of course, there is Shauna Sylvester, who envisions us in a public place with natural light that is part of her new work with SFU Public Square. We meet and plan and discuss and it is happening. It is the thing born that says, we, the city. Alive with words.
The Skytrain rumble-roar affords me a final time-shift:
March 28, 2012, Lunch Poems at SFU, Teck Gallery, our inaugural, with Evelyn Lau, City of Vancouver Poet Laureate. Her guest poet, Daniela Elza. Over a hundred people attend. For our second session, Wayde Compton reads with his guest, Rahat Kurd. She sings from the Koran, reads ghazals that suture history into form poetry. And so our reading series takes shape, with much guidance from Wayde, who has this knack for pairing poets together. Shauna builds into our proceedings an opening welcome that is about community: to see people, to say hello, to turn to the one seated beside another. Every time we meet for lunch and poetry, we do this: turn to one another. And we keep coming back for more.
Author Renée Saklikar is a poet and a member of the Lunch Poems at SFU team.