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Poetry: can you give it away?

In Vancouver’s The Tyee, Fiona Lam writes about her part in the Random Acts of Poetry campaign, in which poets in cities across the country approach strangers and offer to read from their work. Unfortunately, it turns out that even free poetry is a hard sell. “Most people were on their guard, sizing me up, concerned about requests for donations or a sales pitch,” writes Lam. “Perhaps they were even worried that I was a religious wingnut or merely insane. Some were just too busy to listen. One woman working out in a gym seemed horrified. A few others simply scampered away. When I did receive a wary ‘yes,’ I sometimes felt I was just being tolerated, not truly listened to.”

Comparing her own experiences to those of her colleagues in other cities, Lam wonders if there’s something particularly poetry-shy about Vancouver, but the more likely culprit is simply typical big-city wariness.

Still, Lam occasionally managed to find an audience, however small and fleeting. “One day,” she writes, “the owner of a Granville Island flower shop and his investment dealer customer both looked at me warily when I approached them, and reluctantly agreed to hear a poem. As I looked up periodically while reading a wry poem about the end of a relationship, I could see their suspicion melt, and a gradual opening and warmth take its place.”

Related links:
Fiona Lam’s Random Acts of Poetry diary in The Tyee