It was standing-room-only in Manx Pub, a warm and intimate setting befitting of the occasion, as lovers of poetry and spoken word gathered together on October 27th to celebrate the launch of Arc Poetry Magazine's latest issue. The camaraderie between colleagues and strangers alike was infectious as attendees waited for the event to begin, a testament to the sense of community which has evolved from the magazine and its influence on the Canadian literary scene. The murmur of the enthusiastic crowd only faded as Frances Boyle, Arc’s associate poetry editor, took the stage to open the evening and introduce "Labour and Livelihood," the 90th issue of the magazine. The new issue of Arc explores the idea of “work” in all of its many definitions and facets, Boyle explained, as well as the relationship between poetry, identity and labour.
To demonstrate how this theme is put into practice, Boyle introduced Mike Chaulk, the first of the three contributors in attendance that evening, to read his poetry and reflect on his own relationship with “work.” Reading from his series “How Long do Birds Live?”, Chaulk began by presenting his poems “The House Wren” and “The Golden Crowned Kinglet”, both of which were existential pieces that reflected upon the modern tendency towards passivity over activity. Many people could be seen nodding along as lines hit home, and the room laughed and hummed at shared experiences, which good poetry always illuminates. With his final reading of the night, Chaulk explored the question of identity and Indigenous issues, perfectly encapsulating the theme of the issue which seeks to explore how poetry and identity intersect with labour.
Next to the stage was Andrea Thompson, who presented several spoken word pieces, each of which was just as poignant as the last. In “A Brief History of Soul Speak”, Thompson reflected on the influence of black literary art on spoken word while paying homage to Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, and other “ancestors of verse.” Thompson also lamented that so many other stories remain unsung, and emphasized the work that still needs to be done within the literary scene to make room for these voices. As Thompson artfully delivered her poems, the audience once again collectively nodded along and met her with warm applause when the last notes faded out.
Finally, Eli Tareq Lynch got up to present several moving pieces that dealt with gender, religion, race, and climate change. Reading their poem “When I Lived on Acadie,” they reflected on how they are too busy making progress and moving forward to notice all those who only stand, and stare, and judge. Lynch demonstrated an inspiring level of dedication to the work they have chosen which struck all those in attendance. A line from their last poem “Underwater” really resounded with the evening, as they asked “how do you muster optimism when everything seems doomed?” How do we find the motivation to move forward when so much stands in our way, and progress seems impossible? How do we persevere against all this adversity? Because, as Thompson pointed out in her poem “Free Write Manifesto,” poetry is “filled with magic, healing, and connection,” all of which give us the strength to get up and get on with our work. You can find this connection with a diverse and beautiful group of writers in the latest issue of Arc Poetry Magazine, available through subscription and at your local magazine stand.