Making Poetry Tough Again

I met with co-founders of the Wolf Mountain Writing Collective Dave Kenny and Cail Judy, to talk about their newest project the Main Street Trail and the project’s launch party happening at The Cobalt this Wednesday, the 19th of September. We met fittingly enough at the Main Street branch of 49th Parallel Coffee on one of the last warm evenings of September.

The Wolf Mountain Writing Collective was born out of a college class Kenny and Judy were taking together. They wanted to do something different from the usual in-class poetry reading. These early poetry events grew and evolved into the present day collective. This collective is made up of a gang of young writers who are passionate about their mission, “to make poetry tough again.” When asked about their motto they cite the prevailing notion of poetry readings as subdued affairs where people sit quietly and listen to obtuse works. Kenny references a scene in The Dharma Bums were a wild poetry reading party takes place. The party is as much about the writing as it is about drinking and having a good time. While not trying to re-create a retro beat scene, it is the kind of atmosphere they aim for with their poetry readings and their upcoming Main Street Trail launch party. The launch party, happening Wednesday night at the raucous venue the Cobalt, will be an interesting mix of culture and partying. The usually quite lively crowd at The Cobalt will surely mean a heavy emphasis on the latter. Six dollars at the door will get you music, poetry, prizes, interactive art pieces and cheap drinks. A poetry reading is usually not the first thing that springs to mind for a fun night out on the town but the Wolf Mountain Collective want to change that. They want Wolf Mountain events to be associated with a good time in this city. Their enthusiasm and ambition is infectious. Even their punchy name Wolf Mountain, makes you think of a rough-edged rock band that you want to go on tour with.

Wolf Mountain are big on the performance aspect of poetry. They are focused on the importance of the audience experience in relation to the poem. Their work comes alive when it is performed in front of people and it seems like they want to equal parts engage and entertain a crowd. It is a rebellion against the idea of poetry as elitist and something too ‘difficult’ for the ordinary person to appreciate. They name writers such as Charles Bukowski as an inspiration. Bukowski wrote in a raw and immediate way about his own experiences of hard living that can instantly appeal to people from all walks of life. Similarly Wolf Mountain want their poetry to hit as many different people as possible in a visceral way.

The Main Street Trail is the biggest project they have taken on so far. With help from the Neighbourhood Small Grants Project they have created a poetry scavenger hunt. Over the last few days they have been spray painting their work onto a variety of buildings and walls up and down Main Street. This public art project embraces a community that is down at heel but also an enclave for artists. It is a proactive way to ensnare poetry lovers and non-lovers alike. You can hunt for them all or simply be inspired by a fragment you read as you go about your business. It is great that they are bringing poetry out of its rarefied spaces and ingraining it onto the bricks and mortar of Main St. It is a mixing of high and low art at the same time, graffiti and poetry. The project is permanent as it becomes part of the landscape of Mount Pleasant but also transient as it must bear the effects of tags and new developments. With the rate buildings are being knocked down and assembled around here I suggest you scavenge some of these poems soon!

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien fills many the happy hour as contributing editor and writer for the Vancouver Weekly. She can be found eating all the nibbles at book launches or getting lost in tiny secondhand book stores. Follow her on twitter @jesso_brien