It often seems that Vancouver is not-so-slowly turning into one big ugly Coal Fucking Harbour, the sterile, condo-choked, lifeless, real-scale architectural model that the Greenest City™ named in honour of what is likely one of the major historical causes of global warming. This isn’t a complaint about architecture or what passes locally for urban planning (per se). Rather, it’s about the by-product of making a city too expensive to allow space for the kind of uncorporatised creatives that aspire to produce something not destined only for the Barrick Gold Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Madama Butterfly, anyone?).
Vancouver’s long been in an awkward cultural position – too big to be only the overgrown logging town it started as, but too small to have the critical mass of youthful non-conforming creative entrepreneurs necessary to secure a vibrant and sustaining underground culture. For too long, the popular cultural conversation seems to have been a polarised struggle between faint-hearted, west-side, blue-haired society dames who have their Cadillacs safely back in their Point Grey garages by 10pm, and drunken, screaming, wild-haired, black-clad, sleaze-bar rockers who terrorise the night bus on their way back to their bedbug-infested east-side flophouses. If much else existed, it was either spotty and unpredictable, or so far underground that a stranger in town would need a miner’s helmet and pickaxe to find it.
Thus, I was very happy this weekend to discover The Strathcona Art Gallery and Library. It’s actually been around for a year or so, but the batteries are dead in my helmet and once I’ve paid the rent on my rat-infested east-side bungalow, I can’t afford fresh ones.
The STAG, as it’s referred to colloquially, operates out of the home of Aja Rose Bond and Gabriel Saloman. I found my way there last night for a poetry reading and chapbook launch party for the members of the Mini Chap Book Press, which I believe is comprised of several writers who came together through a residency at the Banff Centre.
When we came in the front door, Gabriel welcomed us in the front hall, pointed out the lending library, the living room in which the reading would take place, and the kitchen in which we were encouraged to help ourselves to drinks. While my companions chatted with some of their past and present students, also there for the reading, I browsed the library. I was reading a poem in Ian Young‘s 1986 collection Sex Magick when Gabriel came by and chatted. He’s a friendly and warm host, appealingly bearish in appearance, and was acquainted with what could be presumed to be the book’s Radical Faerie connections. It was all I could do to not hump his leg.
The room filled up with about twenty-five people for the reading. There were seven mini-chapbooks, which sold for two bucks each or ten for the set, written by Joe Abel, Sidony O’Neal, Anahita Jamali Rad, Andrew McEwan, Taryn Hubbard, Phinder Dulai, and Andrea Hoff. Five of the authors (Sidony, Anahita, Andrew, Andrea Hoff, and Taryn) were present to read, and one (Joe Abel) had sent a recording to be played. Each book measures about an inch and a half by two inches and is comprised of about nine pages.
I don’t know how many more things like The STAG exist in Vancouver that I haven’t yet discovered, but all I have to say is, “More, please!”