Sublime, entertaining, and full of surprises
– Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry Night
Thursday January 15th
Vancouver Public Library
Ariadne Sawyer and Todd Wong, hosts of the 4th Annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry Night – photo Stephen Mirowski
old, something new, something borrowed, something brewed,” is how I
always describe the GHFC World Poetry Night. And then sometimes
we just make things up as we go along… that is how creativity
works. What else could you expect when the host of Co-op Radio's
“Creativity Rocks” program Ariadne Sawyer gets together with Gung
Haggis Fat Choy creator Todd Wong?
A little bit of Scottish music on this side… a little bit of Chinese
poetry on that side… a little bit of Robbie Burns from Ian Mason, and
a strange hybrid Chinese/Scottish dragon dance to bagpipes in the
middle of the poetry readings.
But just prior to all the literary readings, I had to do a quick
interview with Erin Cebula of Global TV for her weekly feature “Global
Village.” Erin asked me questions about the origin of Gung Haggis
Fat Choy dinner and how I came to create collaborative programs with
other community groups such as World Poetry Night, Vancouver Society of
Storytelling, and the SFU Recreation Department…. all to culminate
into an unofficial Gung Haggis Fat Choy festival of events.
And all too soon, we heard the bagpipes calling. I had to go join
the evening's performers for our traditional piping in ceremony.
Piper Joe McDonald led us into the room. Ariadne, myself, Fiona,
Shelly, Leon and Ian. It's always a nice way to set the tone,
after Barbara Edwards, VPL librarian welcomes the audience to the
Vancouver Public Library.
Ariadne led off the welcomes, thanking all the poets for coming, then
she read her opening poem. I also read a poem titled “My
Ancestors are hanging” about encountering a picture of my great-great
grandfather's brother “Rev. Chan Sing Kai” hanging in an photograph
exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1986. I had written it in
1986 for a Canadian Literature course. People liked it… I
will print it here later.
Multi-instrumentalist Joe McDonald – with his flute and keyboard – photo Stephen Mirowski
Joe McDonald was next, and he played an original song on his Chinese
sang the words acapella. Joe is truly a multi-talented
performing artist. Throughout the evening he performed bagpipes,
keyboards, flute and harmonica.
Scottish-born Chinese Canadian Fiona Tinwei Lam read some selections
from her collection Intimate Distances. Some drew on memories of
the distant land that she left while still a child. Another
focussed on an intercultural relationship.
Fiona Tinwei Lam reading from “Intimate Distances” – photo Stephen Mirowski
I next introduced Dr. Ian Mason of the Burns Club of Vancouver, by
recalling our conversation earlier in the day that while Chinese had
invented the Ancient World, it was the Scots who invented the
Modern World. Burns was a philosopher ahead of his time, and Ian
was able to expand on these thoughts, giving examples of the life of
Robbie Burns. While Burns died at the young age of 37 (a
collective sigh was ushered by the audience), he wrote about the
injustices of the tax and voting systems of the day – which could have
been considered treasonous. Ian ended by talking about and
reading from “A Man's A Man For All That,” which asks for equality for
individuals, especially in the sense of voting privileges. How
fitting a talk for Martin Luther King Day.
Leon Yang spoke about some customs for Chinese New Year, and read poems
both in Chinese and English. Unfortunately, I didn't hear much
because I was outside in the hall helping to ready the evening's
surprise. I had gathered six paddlers from the Gung Haggis Fat
Choy dragon boat team and some volunteers from the audience to assemble
beneath a long bolt of purple tartan plaid. I gave Steven Wong
the large Chinese Lion head mask, and we quickly created the very first
Gung Haggis Fat Choy “Dragon Dance team.”
I returned to the stage and explained the differences between Scottish
dragons and Chinese dragons. While European dragons are evil and
need to be vanquished, as in the picture of St. George and the Dragon,
Asian dragons are good and benevolent. Being born in the year of
the dragon is considered very fortunate. I asked the audience who
was born in the year of the dragon, and some people put up their
hand. Audience members were quick to name that the coming Chinese
New Year on February 18th, would be the Year of the Pig / Boar.
“But not the Year of the Hog,” I remarked… as audience members
laughed. And with that, I signaled to bagpiper Joe McDonald, and
he walked in piping, followed by the “Dream Dragon” which pranced into
the room and cajoled with audience members. I explained how it is
good luck on Chinese New Year Day, that a dragon or Lion comes to your
store and accepts a lettuce hung from a stick. And that since the
audience members didn't come prepared with lettuce they could hold out
money for the dragon to accept. hee hee….
Poet Shelly Haggard read a Robert Service poem, and read her own in the
style of Service, the legendary Scottish-born poet who came to Canada
and wrote the immortal “Shooting of Dan McGrew” and the “Cremation of
Sam Magee.” Shelly also read some original poems including one
with a Chinese theme of bamboo.
Our evening came to a close with a final poem reading of my friend Jim
Wong-Chu's poem “Recipe for Tea” – which describes how Tea came to
Scotland from China. It is a poem for two voices for which
Ariadne read the voice describing a Chinese tea ceremony, and I read
the voice of social commentary. It was warmly recieved by the
We came to a close with a singing of “My Haggis Lies Over the Ocean,”
sung to the tune of “My Bonnie” and a group circle of “Auld Lang Syne”
with everybody crossing their arms together in true Scots
fashion. A little bit of Scots in every Chinese-Canadian
performer, and a little bet of Chinese in every Scots-Canadian
performer. That was Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry Night.