We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

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The Question Is…Why is poetry important?

James Witwicki
Copy Editor, Writer

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“Sometimes the world narrows to a very fine point. A certain slant of light. The head of a needle you need to pass through. I don’t care right now about the National Energy Board of Canada (merely a corporate tool for shoe horning global energy projects into other people’s territories…”).

That’s a quote from Stephen Collis’s 2014 prose poem, The Last Barrel of Oil on Burnaby Mountain (https://beatingthebounds. com/2014/10/26/the-last-barrel-of-oilon- burnaby-mountain/). Collis, and the protest he supported, were able to change folks’ minds about the Trans Mountain Pipeline. That’s one reason why poetry is important. Kinder Morgan sued Collis and the other pipeline protesters for $5.4 million. The suit failed on a technicality, but I remember this case, and I believe the poem had an effect on public opinion.

Here is something from a much different perspective: a childhood memory of Jathinder Sandhu, from Megaphone’s 2023 Voices of the Street – Losing Hope, Finding Home

at the Birmingham Bullring,

button-down mothers

push baby strollers

with button-down babies burping

and smelling of stale milk

and daddy as tall as the devil

at the Birmingham Bullring 

In this vivid recollection, Sandhu takes us to a different place and time: the perspective of a small child, in awe of her father and the bustling surroundings. 

From the very large to the small, poetry has the ability to transport the reader/ audience from one place to another.

Yvonne Mark, a frequent contributor to Voices of the Street, an annual literary anthology, has tracked the challenges and successes of her recovery in poetry and prose. Here’s a passage from the latest publication. 

I’m a walking miracle today with

a heart filled with gratitude,

as I turned my life around

and altered my attitude.

I so relate to anyone

walking the dark road,

but you’re definitely not

alone, desolate and cold.

Speaking for myself, ODAAT

[One Day at a Time]

Some Voices of the Street writers are deep into recovery; others are finding their way. Writing poetry and prose can help with that. That’s why Megaphone hosts regular weekly writing workshops at Onsite, a transitional detox and housing program located above Insite in the Downtown Eastside. Here is a sample from KC Cooper:

On the margins you’ll be

Trying to break free

Of the dope and a life

Riddled with strife

The keys to the locks they don’t sell

Ones that will free you from hell

Not hidden on a shelf

They are inside yourself.

In January of next year, some of the Onsite writing facilitators will be at 312 Main to conduct a series of writing workshops which will help to create content for the 2024 Voices of the Street. As always, we will be writing to a theme. These writing sessions give writers like me an opportunity to situate ourselves in time and place and to take our readers somewhere else entirely.

We are eager to get going, because in September, Megaphone vendors sold out of the 2023 Voices of the Street! It seems that, in times of uncertainty, poetry and short prose are more relevant than ever. Those are some reasons why I think poetry and short prose pieces are important. 

Stories of change are best when shared

From social media to texting to email, consider sharing links to the Megaphone stories that move you—so that we can all move forward.

James Witwicki

James Witwicki

Copy Editor, Writer

James Witwicki was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and moved to Delta and later Burnaby in the early 1970s. He has been living in the Downtown Eastside for more than 14 years. James is a prolific writer and has been published numerous times in Voices of the Street. He stays active in the community through his volunteer work at Strathcona Vineyard Church and works as a copy editor for Megaphone magazine as part of The Shift peer newsroom.

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