Spotlight on Jillian Christmas and Vancouver Poetry House
By Katie Czenczek, Staff Writer
Poetry isn’t dead, folks. It’s alive and well and has made Vancouver a staple for aspiring writers to flock to. With all the numerous cafes in the city acting as the perfect venues for spoken word poets, Vancouver has become known for its rich poetry scene.
Vancouver Poetry House helps promote and engage the community of poets and audience members through youth initiatives, festivals, and events that support poets. Events such as the Verses Festival of Words, Hullabaloo, and WordPlay have all started as a part of the Vancouver Poetry House collective. Vancouver Poetry Slam is the longest running slam in Canada, which has been running for 21 years now and is how Vancouver Poetry House came to be.
In an interview with The Other Press, Jillian Christmas—Artistic Director of Verses Festival of Words and Coordinator at the Vancouver Poetry Slam—explained exactly what makes Vancouver such a unique landscape for poetry.
“I think that Vancouver, much like London, [has become] a place that—for whatever reason—people from all over go to for poetry. I think there’s something about the idea of the Wild West that brings forth a lot of artistic minds and independent creators. I also think that there’s a lot of real richness of Indigenous work on the West Coast, in part to do with the [unceded] land that contributes to the sort of resilience and resistance found in their work. It crops up out of Strathcona and the history of the black community too. We [are] lucky to be at the intersection of those historic stories.”
Christmas further added that she made the move from Ontario to Vancouver for exactly that reason.
“There’s a really wonderful and warm community of people—not just in the slam scene—but also across the city. It’s a literary city that I have come to learn from and support,” she said.
She also discussed Verses Festival of Words and Vancouver Poetry House and the importance of getting people from communities who often do not have a voice to contribute.
“We like to support artistry coming out of communities that don’t typically get the same amount of stage space or promotion. One of the main goals of [Vancouver Poetry House and Verses] is to create and increase spaces for marginalized voices; it’s fundamental to what we do. Basically, my entire career is based around speaking out through the creative process. As an organizer and an artist, I know how important it is to have spaces for that kind of work. That, to me, is where my activism lays, in creating spaces [for marginalized people].”
For those who have never read their poetry to an audience before, Christmas suggested they come on out and see any of the shows happening around Vancouver.
“I always say [to newcomers], first come out to a show. Not necessarily our show, but the Slam happens to be a particularly good place to launch things. My advice is to take the leap, and, in small increments, to detach yourself from the idea of safety. What makes performing poetry, as opposed to writing that’s only on the page, is the sense of community you get from saying your poems to an audience. You can get immediate feedback from the audience members and are able to connect with people in ways that you normally couldn’t.”
Be sure to check out some of the slam events happening around Vancouver, such as the Vancouver Poetry Slam. Running every Monday at 7 p.m. at Café Deux Soleils, the slam consists of three sections: Open mic, a single feature poet, and ending off with a poetry slam competition. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll go for the mic.