Article, Community, Social Justice, Urban Issues

Recap: The 2023 Voices of the Street Publication Launch

June 13, 2023

On a balmy evening in May, Megaphone vendors, supporters, volunteers and staff, and special guest Vancouver Poet Laureate Fiona Tinwei Lam, gathered to celebrate the achievements of contributors to the 2023 edition of Voices of the Street, and hear a selection of writers read their works. As a long-time partner of the annual publication, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement welcomed the community to the World Arts Centre for an evening of poetry and prose. 

Downtown Days by Jathinder Sandhu 

I have tracked the open road,
stepped into a yellow meadow,
found my sanity amongst the small leaves,
wild, like a beckoning thunderstorm.

I have held a lonesome hand
and felt the depth of a remorseful life.

Because these are the places I have cried,
when the curious eyes of November
saw right through me,
behind a dumpster at Oppenheimer Park,
with rocks grown big with weeping
as tears edged their way out
in great enthusiasm—
when once I smiled
ordinary smiles, sitting
in my father’s house.

For devotees of Megaphone and their publications, programs and vendors, Voices of the Street is known as the much anticipated annual literary anthology. Released every spring, Voices of the Street (VOTS) is a compendium of writing by Megaphone community members, a space for exploration of creative expression through language. 

Like many of Megaphone’s programs, which centre on publications sold by vendors with lived experience of poverty and intersecting social exclusions, VOTS is a vehicle for unlikely storytelling and a means for writers and vendors to earn an income. It’s an opportunity to centre their perspectives, with the lofty goal of disarming prejudice, while making contributions to the livelihoods of individuals who are generally excluded from traditional forms of employment. 

Within the growing sector of peer-employment in Vancouver, largely centred in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), Megaphone remains unique in its focus on storytelling. In a moment when traditional journalism and publishing are struggling, and ‘content’ is in surplus, Megaphone is asking the public to purchase tangible publications with written works from the most unlikely places by the least conventional authors. Having served as the Executive Director of Megaphone for a number of years, I know the challenges and the rewards of this model. While poetry and peer-journalism are not always an easy sell, the works produced make valuable contributions to discourses on poverty and homelessness. Equally important, the publications are the material expression of relationship building that strengthens community, and for many contributors are part of their journey of discovering the joys of storytelling. 

In the case of Voices of the Street, contributions to the publication are made year-round. Every week, Megaphone hosts writing workshops at Onsite, a medically supervised detox centre located above Insite’s supervised injection program. Writing workshop instructors Katie Czenczek and Surya Govender host workshops weekly at Onsite, providing an opportunity for participants to use creative writing as an outlet for or distraction from the difficult work they’re doing in the detox program, and if they so choose, they can submit their writing for publication in Megaphone or the annual anthology. Katie and Surya also host a special workshop series in January each year to anyone in the wider community who would like to develop their creative writing in a supportive environment. 

The resulting publication is always full of surprises. Delightful fancies and unflinching truths, lighthearted amusements and piercing insights collide in Voices of the Street. The project provides a means for expressing whatever the writer desires to share, be it encounters while working as an attendant in a DTES public washroom as with Henry Doyle’s ‘Washroom Journal,’ a meditation on how urban life becomes a personal reflection as with Jathinder Sandhu’s ‘Downtown Days,’ or concern for the fate of eagles as with The Bear Whisperer’s ‘Trees.’ Many contributors write about their own journeys through personal hardships amidst various social barriers and insecurities, as with Gilles Cyrenne’s ‘Coming Home to Me: A Poem,’ and KC Cooper’s ‘Breaking Free.’ 

At the May launch of the 2023 publication, guests heard from ten writers along with two peer photographers who have been in training with professional photographers, to build up their capacity to regularly contribute to Megaphone magazine as well as this special literary edition. The evening was a celebration of creativity and an opportunity to give thanks to the writers who shared a little piece of themselves. Each contribution is personal and heartfelt, and as a compendium demonstrates a breadth of experience and interests in a community often reduced to one or two defining attributes. 

The 2023 Voices of the Street is available now from Megaphone vendors on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria. To locate a vendor, click here.

Lucky by Laughlin

He perches on my knees
My precious Siamese 

With the softest purr
And the most elegant posture 

I pull him into my arms and onto my chest
With me every night he rests 

As loving as he is loyal
To me, Lucky is royal.

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