Vancouver Writers Fest ‘Poetry Bash’ review
By Roshni Riar, Staff Writer
On October 20 at 8 pm, a room full of excited people settled into the packed Performance Works venue on Cartwright Street in Vancouver. They were all ready for the Poetry Bash—a much-anticipated literary event hosted by the Vancouver Writers Fest.
When attending an event that’s advertised as a “poetry bash,” it’s hard to know what to expect. People often think of poetry readings as sombre, hyper-intellectual affairs where the audience is clad in berets and turtlenecks, snapping their fingers lackadaisically as the poet on stage concludes their piece. That might be true of some events, but in the case of the Poetry Bash it proved to be quite the opposite.
The event’s lineup featured a blend of six local and international writers. Each writer brought a different story and voice that kept the listeners engaged and at the edge of their seats. Over the course of the evening, the audience heard from Sabrina Mahfouz, a British-Egyptian poet; Julie Bruck, a Canadian writer now based out of San Francisco; Billy-Ray Belcourt, a poet from the Driftpile Cree Nation; Katherena Vermette, an award-winning Métis poet hailing from Winnipeg; Javier Zamora, an El Salvadoran poet now residing in the US; and Shayne Koyczan, a spoken word poet who grew up in Penticton.
Sabrina Mahfouz opened the night, reading from How You Might Know Me, a phenomenal book of poetry centred around her conversations with sex workers living in London. She also read a poem featured in Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic titled “Postcard from a Muslim Mermaid.” Mahfouz’s poem used relatable and familiar imagery to paint a scene and provide a social commentary, which was a surprising twist on writing about something as whimsical as mermaids. Her stage presence was captivating and the splashes of humour in her poetry worked to punctuate her message. As the first poet on stage, she turned the energy in the room up and it stayed there for the rest of the night.
Javier Zamora took the microphone in the second half of the night, sharing his story with the audience. He made listeners laugh by adding expletives to his sentences like bookends to every thought. He told everyone that it was his first time outside of the US. The last time he had been out of the US was before he immigrated, crossing the Mexican border on foot as a nine-year-old child. Zamora read from Unaccompanied, a collection of poems that detail his childhood and coming of age as an immigrant. The poems that he shared ranged in their setting and action, but present through them all was the raw emotion of someone trying to find a place in the world.
Shane Koyczan closed the night, starting off by chatting casually with the audience who was unaware that he was setting up his poem. He told everyone that he had just lost his grandmother this past May. As he explained her “-isms” and personality to the room, it became apparent how much she meant to him. Seamlessly, Koyczan slipped into an unreleased poem that navigated his relationship with his grandmother and the aftermath of her passing. Tears flowed as he spoke. His performance and delivery were so intensely passionate and melodic that at times it almost sounded like a rap. As he concluded, the audience leapt to their feet, eager to acknowledge the brilliance of his poetry and all the other writers’.
The event came to a close and the featured writers hung around, chatting with fans and signing books. Leaving Performance Works, groups of strangers turned to each other to express their amazement at what they had just been a part of, wanting to share their favourite moments and continue the conversation long into the night.