Word Vancouver 2020 event highlights the power of family collaboration through poetry collection

Writing Through the Generations covers the creation of Hope Matters from colonial beginnings to reconciliation

Hope Matters is a culmination of writings from family members Columpa Bobb, Tania Carter, and Lee Maracle. Courtesy of Book*hug press

By: Molly Lorette, Peak Associate

Due to the present circumstances of a pandemic, Word Vancouver converted their 2020 festival to an online format. Last year, the event celebrated its 25th anniversary and has been regarded as one of the largest free Canadian-focused literary festivals.

The festival took place over the span of eight days and included multiple panels and workshops focused on Canadian literature — these were held over Zoom and streamed through their Facebook page. I attended one such panel event, Writing Through The Generations, wherein host Russell Wallace led a wonderful discussion with the three poets behind Hope Matters

Written by Indigenous sisters Columpa Bonn and Tania Carter, along with their mother Lee Maracle, Hope Matters is a collection of collaborative poetry. As children, the two sisters would often write with their mother, and the three always dreamed of working collaboratively on a project one day. As they discussed in the panel, the production of this collection’s first draft involved the three sitting out on their back porch for three to four hours a day over the course of two weeks. Primarily, this consisted of call and response poetry, where titles were pitched and poems were written in return. What resulted was a breathtakingly candid collection recounting the journey from colonial beginnings to reconciliation, both in a wide sense for the greater Indigenous community as well as an interpersonal one. 

It was discussed that because so much damage was done within nations, the repairs made in efforts towards reconciliation cannot simply be surface-level. It is crucial to understand that residential schools did not only affect the residents in attendance, but the entire family involved. It is because of this reality that simple surface-level acts of reconciliation such as speeches, donations, and apologies cannot be expected to repair generations worth of damages. 

As Maracle explained, a large part of reconciliation for her has been reconciling herself with other members of her community, which has become more important than getting the government to take action. Further, host Wallace noted that words are simply words without an action to back it up. The impact of actions versus words was illustrated during the poetry reading, wherein the authors read through After the Sorry Clears Who Will Pay For The Headstones, which was written after Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology for residential schools. Bobb discussed how the day had felt heavy with death, as if someone had just dug up their graves. Yes, apologies are important, but without action taken towards rigging injustices, words can become hollow.

Further discussed was the notion of hope as a concept. Because there is no yearning without hope, such emotion is incredibly powerful, as it serves as both an activator, an animator, and an instigator. While the collection is written in tandem, each voice is individually heard, weaving together a singular familial poetic proclamation. Since governmental acts targeting Indigenous people were created in order to tear families apart, the act of bringing one’s family together once more is an act of both courage and defiance. The panel itself is viewable through Facebook, and I highly recommend tuning in and giving it a watch to continue the complex relationship between Candian politics and literature.

All Word Vancouver events are available for streaming on the WORDVancouver YouTube channel for the next three weeks.