Even if they are just writing cat poems

Although many people might not be aware of it, the literary community in Vancouver not only exists, but thrives. Word Whips, a writer’s circle/open mic held in various locations in the city, is one of many long-standing community programs that challenges both emerging and seasoned writers to flex their literary muscles.

Word Whips was one of the many literary outreach programs formed by the Pandora’s Collective, a writer’s collective formed in 2002 with the mission to “[promote] the arts that inspire the world to take notice of itself,” by noted local poets Sita Carboni and Bonnie Nish. Since the founding of this collective, it has become a registered non-profit organization and supports Vancouver’s literary scene through annual scholarships and contests, and hosting various community groups such as open mic nights, book clubs and writer’s groups like Word Whips. They are also involved in outreach for at-risk children and teens, as well as adults going through alcohol and drug rehabilitation, hosting poetry workshops specifically for these groups.

Word Whips itself was started in 2004, co-hosted by Nish and Carboni at various locations in Vancouver. The structure of Word Whips is very simple: at each meeting, the hosts give writing prompts to the attendees, who then write for 10 to 15 minutes on the prompt. After this, everyone is given the opportunity to share their results with the group. Some locations even supply a mic to read at, making it even more of a “showcase” workshop.

Due to the success of this program, in 2007, an additional North Vancouver meeting was created, co-hosted by Fran Bourassa and Suzy Malcolm, who are both heavily involved in the Vancouver literary scene, and experienced writers.

“We believe that the thing you first write down is your authentic voice,” says Bourassa. “You could sit down for a couple hours and try really hard to be ‘poetic,’ but that won’t be your authentic voice.”

Bourassa also stresses that they try very hard to encourage members to not abandon their work once the meeting is over. “There are many, many open mics [offered by Pandora] and we encourage our people to work and edit their pieces so they can be read at the open mics. Some off-the-cuff pieces are especially worthy of the time and energy needed to make a good poem or story out of them.”

She says that the intention of the group is to “inspire writing,” adding that “if more people wrote, the world would be a better place. It’s a real healing force and creative force.” The group has an open-door policy, and aims to “help emerging writers, and help people who have never had an opportunity to put pen to paper ... there is no competition, no judgment, and no comparison within the group.”

The meeting began with a quick introduction to the purpose of the group for newcomers, but they quickly moved to the main business of the night – writing. Some examples of the prompts given at the meeting were to “write a text beginning with the repetition of the name of a loved one twice,” “write a scene between your parents, living or deceased, talking about you” and to “write to the poison within.” The prompts created results that were both surprising and incredibly personal from the attendees, and almost everyone ended up sharing, indicating a high level of trust within the group. It was clear that no one, including those who were newcomers, felt any fear of judgment or comparison. “People seem to be quite willing to go with the experience,” says Bourassa.

Word Whips, at its core, is a challenge to writers, both young and old, established and just starting out. The challenge is not only to write, but to write within a boundary and find something inspiring about a given prompt. If you are looking for an opportunity to share your work with other writers, or just give writing a shot, Word Whips is a comfortable and pressure-free environment to do so.

Details on times and locations of the Word Whips meetings can be found at the Pandora’s Collective website at www.pandorascollective.com, where you can also find information about their history and the host for each night.

//Celina Kurz, Writer

//illustration by Tiare Jung

on the prompt “write a text beginning with the repetition of the name of a loved one twice”

Cat cat
disappear overnight
shake a can of food,
you come home
sleep sleep
sleeping on me
i’m trying to type on the computer and you’re in the way
but i will still let you sit on me
cat cat
we all try our best not to wake you up
lucky lucky cat
lucky sleepy cat

*NOTE : The ladies at Word Whips said I had “good rhythm”

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