Vancouver’s first Poetry Phone is now available

Discover the work of local wordsmiths; they’re only one call away

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The Poetry Phone project is making art more accessible during the pandemic. Image courtesy of Freerange

By: Alex Masse, Staff Writer

The Vancouver area has always had a thriving poetry scene, from its poetry house that runs festivals and slams to poetry clubs across university campuses — including one here at SFU. To bolster the scene, the City of Vancouver has unveiled its first free Poetry Phone. 

The process is simple: dial 1-833-POEMS-4-U (763-6748) and receive access to recordings of poems by 10 different local artists. Callers may press numbers zero to nine to enjoy different poems. The poems available vary in length from a little over 30 seconds to just under four minutes, with topics ranging from food to mortality to the Vancouver Aquarium’s otters. 

The Poetry Phone was curated by Renée Sarojini Saklikar, who also appears reciting her own poem, “And the Dance Most of All,” an eight-line piece dedicated to bees and how they communicate through dance. This poem was also featured in the 2018 book Listening to Bees, which was created alongside Dr. Mark Winston, an SFU professor and leading expert on honeybees. Saklikar is also the City of Surrey’s Poet Laureate, has worked as a lawyer, and is both an alum and current instructor here at SFU. She graduated from the Writer’s Studio in 2010, and currently teaches business communication and creative writing.  

“And the Dance Most of All” is a bite-sized delight, full of assonance, emotion, and in less than a minute, the love shines through. 

Saklikar is not the only Writer’s Studio instructor on the roster. Also of note are Fiona Tinwei Lam, another creative writing instructor whose work has been published in over 35 anthologies, Joanne Arnott, a poetry mentor with six books to her name, and Jónína Kirton, the Writer’s Studio’s BIPOC auntie — who gives support to BIPOC students and alumni of the program, “[offering] guidance to students working on projects that include characters from outside their own culture, as well as guiding staff, mentors, and editors on issues of inclusivity in writing and publishing.”

Tinwei offers a triplet of poems: “Ode to Chopsticks,” “Ode to the Potato,” and “Omelet.” Each tells a story, alive with imagery and colourful language, sharing treasured memories like learning from a grandfather or watching a loved one cook. 

Kirton’s poem, “Falling,” is a fantastical poem, telling the story of a woman’s resilience — her ascension from falling to floating — in less than a minute. 

In addition to the Poetry Phone, the poets hope to partake in outdoor readings of their chosen works this summer. The outdoor readings would be a part of downtown Vancouver’s Perch Program, which “[creates] privately owned but publicly accessible spaces [that provide] increased opportunities for socializing, destinations, entertainment, or respite in the public realm of Downtown Vancouver.” 

The Perch Program ran from June to September of last year, following approval from Vancouver Coastal Health regarding social distancing guidelines. 

For more information regarding the Poetry Phone’s poets and access to their poems, Downtown Vancouver has a webpage dedicated to this project.