by Hani Yassine
The Lance – Arts Editor
When it came to mentioning his accomplishments, poet Fred Wah mused saying it’s being able to continue writing after all these years, where many others ended up following a different career path.
“I remember when I was a student at UBC. At that time a well-known American poet gave a talk and he talked to a whole group of us, there were 30 or 40 of us, young writers. I found it hard to believe, but he said by the time you’re 40, 98 per cent of you won’t be writing,” Wah said.
He finds himself fortunate as it’s through this sustainability which has paved the way for a prolific career, with over 20 poetry books published, a teaching position and being the Canadian poet laureate for two years. Born in the prairies and raised in British Columbia, the Vancouver-based poet engaged with English and creative writing students during a brief talk and reading Oct. 17. Held in room 51 of Chrysler Hall South, the hour long talk had Wah perform readings from an immense variety of works from his novel ‘Is a Door’ to a compilation of all his poems in the early half of his storied career.
“We try to bring him in once every four or five years, and I have a lot of wonderful things to say about him. He’s an amazing poet, he’s a fabulous reader,” said creative writing Professor Nicole Markotic upon introducing Wah. “He was a teacher of a lot of the contemporary poets that you may be coming across in literature or creative writing classes.”
Among the predominant themes found in Wah’s work lies in racial identity. Being of Chinese descent, he mentioned growing up in a growth of multiculturalism within the city, yet how there was truly no discourse for his culture for a time.
He ultimately links writing as a way of thinking. On top of identity, Wah is fascinated in writing about place and help bring awareness towards issues which believes should come to light, particularly the supply of water. In approaching these themes in a spiritual direction, he attributes it to expression of poetic language, and feels students should always engage as such.
“One of my projects in writing is a thing called Music at the Heart of Thinking, and I just find that engaging with language, composing language has allowed me to think about issues and ideas, philosophical and metaphysical, observational,” Wah said. “I write poetry in the sense as if I’m writing music, or I think poetry as a musical language.”