Poetry Walk - 2019 by Paul Strickland
Poetry Walk - 2019 by Paul Strickland
Local history and personal experiences combined to make a Poetry Walk, jointly sponsored by the University of Northern British Columbia and The Prince George Public Library, a memorable event March 18th.
Librarian Darcy Smith and Prof. Rob Budde led UNBC creative writing students, interested members of the public and a CKPG television cameraman through the one-hour tour that started just outside the library near the Prince George Civic Centre. The students had each written a poem about an architectural site’s history or its importance in their lives.
The walk began with Smith’s observation that “We are on the traditional lands of the Lheidli T’enneh.”
“Art is the means through which we see and understand ourselves,” Budde said. “The city is built on art. As a work of art, it is constantly being revised.”
The first stop was City Hall and an art installation, a wooden sculpture of a dugout canoe, entitled “En cha Ghuna” (He Too Lives),” by Robert Frederick and Jennifer Annais Pighin of the Lleidli T’enneh First Nation. Prof. Budde said the title is also the official motto of UNBC. He read a poem from his collection, Dreamland Theatre, with that title. He said that, during the city’s early history, local indigenous people referred to settlers as “Boston” because some came from Boston, Mass.
The next stop was the Wood Innovation and Design Centre at the northwest corner of Fifth and George. “It was the Prince George Hotel,” Budde said. A creative writing student, Ryley Goldsmid, read his poem, “Happy 105th.”
Every few years I would reinvent myself . . .
One day I was no longer.
Only a pile of brick and rubble.
The third stop was at the Copper Pig BBQ House. Budde read out the poem, “Copper Pig,” by Sam Ngeruka, also a creative writing student.
“I invited students to write about their personal connections to these places,” he said.
Then they stopped in front of the Prince George Law Courts on the northeast corner of Third and George. It used to be the site of the MacDonald Hotel, which had a lot of animal trophies, Smith said. And for the older crowd such as the editor of this website, it was also the easiest place in town to score a joint. In the early 1970s it burned down when a jukebox caught fire, she noted.
Budde read “The Courthouse,” by a student, Maddy Roll, who described trepidations on having to face a judge in traffic court. In the poem she describes falling into an illusion she is back in the old MacDonald and being stared down by a stuffed moose. Just as her name is called, she is brought back to reality in having to face and answer the judge.
The Poetry Walk Group next stopped at the site of the former post office, opened during the early fall of 1939, and the statue of Bridget Moran, writer and social activist, on the bench located along the sidewalk in front. “She was very concerned about marginalized communities,” Smith said.
Budde said one of her key books was Judgment at Stoney Creek. He read a poem by creative writing student Samantha Morey about women in general. It reads in part:
. . . We’re shit on while we’re alive
As well as when we’re dead.
The second last stop was at the Corless House on Fourth Avenue. During the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, the undertaker’s son drove an ambulance to pick up all the bodies of people who’d succumbed to the then deadly influenza. Budde read out “Flight of the Undertaker,” by Cassidy Muir, one of his students.
The final stop was at the current post office on the southwest corner of Fifth and Quebec. The poem read was “Post Office,” by Kourtney Gunther. Budde asked me to comment on the post office since I am a frequent customer there. I just pointed out the date of construction of the former post office, the 1953 construction date of the current main post office, and the fact that a post office is a kind of community nerve centre that it is a mistake for some governments to try to close down in some smaller Northern communities.
Paul Swennumson, former Prince George Secondary School English teacher and also a former College of New Caledonia lecturer, talked briefly about his experiences as a letter carrier in the Abbotsford and Chilliwack districts and how letter carriers are always exchanging information with each other about where the most dangerous dogs are active and at large.
In concluding remarks at the end of the poetry walk event, Budde said. “Whether you like it or not, downtown is who we are.”
Despite errors in planning and its early development, it is the industrial side of our community that has fed many of us, helped educate some of us, provided recreational areas for an innumerable amount of families and the paper mills that have provided the paper on which we print our books.
In closing, Smith said, “I’d love to see a chapbook of all the poems presented today.”
Paul, in his 28 years as a full-time journalist and 6.5 years as a freelance journalist, Paul has worked for newspapers in Nevada, Medicine Hat, and Prince George. Besides being an investigative reporter, he is a poet, a short story writer, and an essayist. He presently resides in Prince George and haunts all the literary scenes that appear in town.