The Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour (Ottawa to Vancouver – April 15 to 26, 2015) was a great success.
In spite of having to change our travel itinerary in being unable to travel by train to Winnipeg due to derailments and a backlog of freight trains, plus the late train arrivals in Winnipeg and Edmonton, the PoeTrainers adapted showing much patience and flexibility.
Our mission/mandate was to travel across Canada to support and stimulate the celebration and promotion of poetry for National Poetry Month.
A grand coalition of 22 poets, musicians, and train lovers co-created cultural festivities to engage the general public on and off the train. Key events were organized in Ottawa (Pressed Café), Toronto (Hot House Restaurant & Bar), Winnipeg (Fort Garry Hotel Salon A), Edmonton (Edmonton City Hall), and Vancouver (Café Deux Soleils). These readings enthused local poetry communities along the route to revitalize Spring’s poetic pulse.
Four past and present Poet Laureates participated in our city stop events. George Elliott Clarke Toronto Poet Laureate, Alice Major Edmonton’s first Poet Laureate, Rachel Rose Vancouver Poet Laureate, and our Parliamentary Poet Laureate Michel Pleau attended our final show in Vancouver.
We met a poet from Nova Scotia Quincy who joined us along with a Via Rail employee who has written every day for the past 10 years. Via’s David shared a couple of poems he wrote specifically for us.
Laura Byrne Paquet , an international travel writer who travelled with the group, also reawakened her poetic pulse. In a recent e-mail, she said, “Hi David, It’s taken me a few days to come back to earth after the amazing PoeTrain trip! Thank you SO much for inviting me along. It was one of the memorable trips of my life.” Laura also wrote a haiku saying she had not written poetry since she was sixteen.
A special thank you to the League of Canadian Poets and the Canada Council for the Arts for providing seven grants including four Canada Reading Tour grants for Blaine Marchand, Marsha Barber, DC Reid, and Debbie Okun Hill to perform/workshop on the train. Also thanks for three food and poetry grants for Blaine Marchand Ottawa, Kathy Figueroa Toronto, and Rachel Rose Vancouver. The food and poetry theme was well integrated into six food inspired event dinners in a private home, cafes, and a final picnic in Stanley Park to honour Pauline Johnson.
DC Reid was our first Poetrain Laureate and carried the talking feather (a symbol of respect for the one who speaks their truth) to events on and off the train. We had Algonquin elder/poet Albert Dumont in Ottawa bless the talking feather before it embarked on its journey. The feather was gifted to hosts in Ottawa Lesley Strutt, Toronto Kate Marshall Flaherty, and Winnipeg Bruce Symaka for Speaking Crow reading series coordinator Chimwemwe Undi, and in Edmonton Alice Major. In Vancouver Bonnie Nish and Kathy Figueroa received the talking feather to take back to their poetry communities.
Via Rail Canada provided us with a skyline dome car for our performances, workshops, and music concerts. Much gratitude to League members Paul Sanderson and Ian Ferrier for performing for the Artist On Board program. Your great chemistry and musical magic was well enjoyed by all.
Two publishers participated in providing two League members for readings/book launches on the PoeTrain. Brick Books from Eastern Canada sponsored Joanna Lilley and Western Canada University of Alberta sponsored Ella Zeltserman.
Poets, passengers, and the public met the world’s first robot poet my kulturBOT 3.0 co-designed by Ryerson University professor Dr. Frauke Zeller and McMaster University professor Dr. David Harris Smith. This digitally-savvy guest rode the rails in an inaugural trip. The world’s first robot poet my kulturBOT 3.0 couldn’t talk but would only print out poems connected to the content of the famous explorer David Thompson’s diaries.
Several poets and some of the general public read short 100 word poems on and off the train. A social media campaign was organized by Alexandra Pavliuc a Ryerson student who posted photos /videos on www.hitchbot.me . We human poets had fun breathing real life into these whimsical style poems throughout the trip. A poet in Edmonton reading one of the David Thompson diary inspired poems said she liked a phrase and would use it in her next poem.
Kids at the Edmonton train station loved it and had all kinds of suggestions for hats. One guy at the Jasper train station thought the lemon squeezer on top of robot’s head was a tip tray and threw a loonie in as one of the poet/musicians played in front of the BOT. In Vancouver robopoet was seated on a table along with the poets. Amusing, entertaining the curious…for when do you have a robot poet attend a poetry event or for that matter travel across Canada on the train? A perfect complement to a most innovative week of poetry celebrations.
If a group bonds in community, happiness naturally magnifies. When we begin to serve/dedicate ourselves to the better happiness of others we all prosper. Our collective spirits indeed did shine.
Poetry at heart is a pure journey.
Travelling a literary landscape
of discoveries and re-discoveries.
In the end the poetry pioneer
arrives at the same place
as where they began.
Collecting gold dust memories
along the brightened trail.
Special appreciation and thanks to the volunteer organizing team of Kent Bowman, Marsha Barber, Kate Marshall Flaherty, and Patrick Connors. Your go getter and go giver attitude made this a reality of legacy memories. Patrick Connors read a Nik Beat poem throughout the trip as he originally was part of the organizing team but died suddenly in September 2014.
Congratulations to the PoeTrainers for keeping the spirit of adventure alive and bonding into a beautiful and epic memory journey. Much poetry was read by the PoeTrainers in each city visited and several open mics on the train. Your diverse and varied voices were an oral mosaic of the Canadian poetic identity. New poetry flowed on the train for a selection of train poems by Canadian poets for an anthology that is to be published shortly.
A huge thank you to all our 40 sponsors and supporters who generously provided grants, gifted their services, and financial donations. In particular my Vancouver coordinator contact Josephine Wasch Sr Manager, International & Domestic Sales who was highly professional, efficient, and immaculate in helping organize the many moving parts of this PoeTrain project.
Via Rail provided the complementary Skyline Car between Winnipeg and Edmonton on Tuesday April 21 and again on the final journey between Edmonton and Vancouver on Friday April 24.
VIA Rail sponsored two poet/musicians (Ian Ferrier and Paul Sanderson) to travel on the Canadian, between Toronto and Edmonton, and then Edmonton and Vancouver as part of our Canadian Talent (musician/ poet) Artist On Board program. They entertained passengers in the Park car and in our skyline Car. On the last night they did a special concert for the economy class passengers that was warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. Paul Sanderson also did an impromptu music set at the Jasper station during our short stop.
Laura Byrne Paquet was given a complimentary cabin and she blogged, took photos, and is submitting her story of our journey to various travel magazines.
The on board staff at Winnipeg and Edmonton departures were excellent in providing lunch/dinner vouchers for first call which helped us with our on board program. They were continuously supportive throughout the two legs of the trip from Winnipeg to Edmonton and then Edmonton to Vancouver.
A big thanks to Michael Wheelen who was commissioned to take photos of the “Canadian” passing the Rockies. We used his photos for our poster, website home page, t-shirt design, official program, and our train poem anthology book cover.
David Brydges is the artistic director of the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015. A special thank you for his guest blog post.
Additional photos and comments about the tour will be posted in the near future.