Last Saturday was your typical summer affair around the shores of Trout Lake – families and couples bathing in the late August heat, lake water lapping against the sound of dogs chasing each other, and barbeques frying as the sun generously poured over the whole scene. On this particular day though, there was a movement of bodies and sounds coming from under the tents at the northwest corner of the lake which offered the denizens a fresh distraction from the usual scenes of the East Vancouver park.
The Summer Dreams Literary Arts Festival celebrated its 2012 season in this icon of the East Vancouver community for the first time in its nine-year history; a location which, due to the vibrant literary scene boasted by nearby Commercial Drive, organizers have called “home turf”. And, unlike the big names that the internationally-recognized Vancouver Writer’s Fest celebrates each year, the Summer Dreams Festival is a forum which brings together world-renowned authors and poets as well as up-and-comers in the local scene. It also provides a space to acknowledge the efforts of community organizers who work tirelessly behind the scenes to promote the variety of literary talent in this city.
Throughout the day you found that the person who had been the morning host at the Main Stage, for example, turned up in the afternoon around the corner at the Granville Stage singing Spanish songs of pre-Columbian resistance, as was the case with American poet Jabez Churchill. With more than 90 readers on three stages, including a children’s venue, the program presented a generous variety of readers. Established writers like legendary Canadian poet Joe Rosenblatt – who kicked off the readings at the Main Stage – shared the bill with first time readers, such as the young poets of Christanne’s Lyceum who displayed their talents at the children’s stage. It was at the latter venue where perhaps the line of the day was delivered by a young Hodge Leung in a poem about shorts made from construction toys: “Lego underwear / uncomfortable!”
Other highlights included a set by the Vancouver Poetry Slam team. They recently returned from the National Poetry Slam in North Carolina as one of two Canadian teams in the mostly American-dominated competition. Particularly noteworthy was the troupe’s Zaccheus Jackson. He declaimed his searing, emotionally-raw poems with spit-fire alacrity, which treated his troubled upbringing as a child adopted from a substance-abuse home and the fresh take on life and art these experiences have given him.
Interspersed among the speaking performers were also musical offerings by local acts such as Vancouver-based East African oud player Alaaeldin Abdalla and his ensemble Sudanda, who inaugurated this year’s festival, as well as headliner Barbara Adler & Fang, who brought the evening’s festivities to a rollicking close. The variety of musical guests served as refreshing side-dishes to the readings which were the day’s main fare, and, as at the children’s stage with popular performers Jacques Lalonde and Max Tell, they were sometimes the major draws.
For curious audience members and aspiring writers, many of the collectives which were given time on stage also had booths around the festival site to provide information on ways to get involved in the local writing and publishing scene. These included the Creative Writing program from Kwantlen Polytechnic University – two of whose students gave readings at the Main Stage earlier in the day – the Writer’s Studio at SFU, as well as various grass-roots community initiatives like the Burnaby Writers’ Society an Vancouver is Awesome.
If last Saturday you were lucky enough to be led outside by one of the last great summer weekends of the year and you found yourself around the perimeter of this gem of East Van, you might have followed the trail of dog barks and grilled food to the northern edge of Trout Lake, and from there heard in the background a faint patter of words well-placed. Finally, you might have edged into the rough semicircle that made up the Summer Dreams Festival and basked in the shade, if even for an instant, of one of the things that make Vancouver such a vibrant and exciting cultural centre to live.
If, however, you were unable to take in some of what the Festival had to offer, this year’s Summer Dreams was so successful for those involved that next year’s event will undoubtedly prove to be even bigger when the tents return to the corner of Trout Lake for its tenth anniversary. If things work out like they did this year, the Festival may become a regular fixture on the edge of this pristine water for years to come.