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Arts in Review

Finding community by pressing ourselves together

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You’re a writer, or you’re trying to be. That’s more accurate. After all, what does it mean to be a writer? Or a poet? Or a playwright? Of course, we must write, each to our own, manuscripts and poems and plays. After we’ve cobbled together a script, or a chapbook, are we then writers? Can we then stop, sufficed at what we are, and throw our proverbial boots up? These are questions for another time. For the moment, suffice it to say that I am trying to be a writer.

Surprisingly (although not too surprisingly), writing means being. It means being, among many other things, present. Your English professors might have you believe being present is all about being in the moment; open your ears, eyes, and be present. Being present also means being in attendance.

In this case, it meant being present at The Paper Hound Bookshop for the reading of various independent works, all published by Quebec’s Metatron press.

Last week, on Feb. 13, I tagged along to a reading hosted by Metatron. I’d never really been to these kinds of events in Vancouver, despite my presence in the writing community here in the Fraser Valley. What I found was striking.

As some 30 people sardined themselves into The Paper Hound and sipped on complementary wine, a selection of some four or five readers took the stage, and shared either poetry or excerpts from short stories. Awkwardness is unavoidable at events like these, but what was perhaps more striking than the poetry (some three chapbooks of which I ended up walking away with), was that what I saw evident before me was a community.

Looking up in surprise and finding friends or acquaintances across the room after entering the shop seemed to be the flavour of the day for many of the people in attendance, and it was in the middle of that crowd that I stood as an outsider. I say “outsider,” but only in the sense that I lacked the context of the room, or of the people in the room, to aid my presence.

As far as a community of writers exists in the Valley, it is not so evident as Vancouver’s. And, the writers I know, I know more because they are my friends than because they are writers. This, I imagine, is also the case for most Valley-based writers. We are a community seemingly only because we have been pushed together through the happenstance of geography.

There are some efforts to remedy this, such as various Valley residents’ self-publishing collaborative zines. While examples like these are great in their encouraging of community, I think that, if my (brief) exposure to Vancouver’s writing community taught me anything, it’s that we need a place, a platform, and a line of communication between us to really cement our burgeoning community.

How this manifests itself in the future is up to us.

Image: Marjorie Lipan/Flickr

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