Fresh off a weekend of live music at Stanley Park to celebrate Vancouver’s 125th anniversary, the city has revealed details of an extraordinary Canadian poetry conference – featuring more than 70 poets of different stripes (spoken word, lyric narrative, avant-garde), almost all of whom published their first book of poetry after 1990 – the only exceptions being the three keynote readers.
“This is the first time we’ve had just a complete cross-section from coast to coast of some of the finest poets from the younger generation of poets come together in one city at one time,” Vancouver’s poet laureate Brad Cran told The Globe and Mail.
Participants include Griffin Prize winner Christian Bök ( Eunoia), Griffin and Governer Governor-General’s Award finalist Ken Babstock ( Airstream Land Yacht), Griffin shortlisted poet Suzanne Buffam ( The Irrationalist), G-G nominee Evelyn Lau ( Oedipal Dreams), and Michael Turner ( Hard Core Logo).
The keynote reading will feature Governor-General’s Award and Griffin Prize winner Don McKay ( Strike/Slip); prolific and esteemed U.S. writer Fanny Howe ( On the Ground); and fellow American Martin Espada, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (for The Republic of Poetry), who has been compared to Pablo Neruda.
In planning the event, which targets aspiring poets, Cran was anxious to move the city forward from the landmark 1963 poetry conference, which brought some U.S. superstars to town.
“Vancouver’s poetry scene is still very much defined by the 1963 conference here when Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley and all the Americans came up here, and that has had such a big impact, and even that whole generation of poets has had such a big impact on Vancouver. And we wanted to get away from that, and maybe not look backwards and make it forward looking.”
The conference, to be held at SFU Woodward’s in October, will feature poetic groupings in 90-minute sessions, half of the time set aside for readings, the other half for discussion. In very few cases have themes been assigned to the readings.
“When I was putting it together, I didn’t think I could impose themes on people and create anything better than they could do when they get here. So a lot of the sessions are unstructured.”
Coinciding with the Vancouver International Writers Festival, the conference will see poets perform evening cabarets in collaboration with the larger festival.
With a budget of about $70,000 (not including in-kind contributions), the conference will wrap up with an event announcing Vancouver’s third poet laureate, who has yet to be chosen.
After his successor is in place, Cran says he’ll get to hide. “I’ve absolutely sworn myself and to [partner] Gillian [Jerome] that we’re going to do nothing but our own writing for five years; we’re going to concentrate on our own books now. We kind of feel like we’ve paid our dues.”
The Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference will be held Oct. 19-22 ( v125pc.com).