Poets in the Kitchen: A Highlight of BC Culture Days

Spoken word artist Johnny D Trinh brought the North Shore community together through food and poetry

Christine Beyleveldt // Editor-in-Chief

The delectable aroma of asparagus sizzling in soy sauce, frying ginger and scallions fills the air of the CityScape Community Art Space on Lower Lonsdale. “We try to evoke memory with our words, with our food, with our stories,” explained Johnny D Trinh, the Vancouver-based spoken word artist and Culture Days ambassador wielding the frying pan. It’s often said that good food brings communities together, and that’s exactly what the mouth-watering, steamed soy ginger scallion salmon Trinh made, did. It is a dish from his childhood.

Poets in the Kitchen, a cooking demonstration followed by a poetry reading, brought out a small but diverse crowd of people on Saturday, Sept. 29 for BC Culture Days. Culture Days is a three-day coast-to-coast celebration of Canadian culture with thousands of free activities every year over the last weekend of September. Organized mainly by volunteers, it was designed in 2007 in response to the success of Quebec’s Journées de la culture. BC Culture Days, held between Sept. 28-30 this year, included events featuring Indigenous women artists at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Vancouver Opera, henna art, photo exhibits and speeches by artists identifying with disabilities.

Those who weren’t able to attend the event could follow along on a live feed streamed from his Instagram account. “I wanted to make an event that was accessible, because not everyone is mobile,” he said. Although, the obvious downside was that the intense smell couldn’t be captured on film.

The seafood meal Trinh prepared was one his mother usually prepared with white fish. He made it with wild sockeye salmon instead to reflect the Art Space’s “Journey of a Salmon” exhibit hanging from the walls around him. But before he began, Trinh led the small crowd in a meditative exercise where he asked them to imagine their favourite dish, and to let it overwhelm their senses. “Food is linked to memory,” said Trinh. “We need storytelling to survive. I wanted to connect the two things [food and poetry] and show that we gathered to share a story.” Trinh originally trained in theatre, and over time found his roles dissatisfying. After moving to Regina, Sask. to pursue his Master’s he went to his first poetry slam, where he read aloud from a play that he had written and earned great reception. He quickly went on to perform at Vancouver Poetry Slam, and began filming cooking tutorials for his YouTube channel. Trinh was joined at BC Culture Days by spoken word poets Johnny MacRae, Anjalica Solomon and Andrew Warner who read original work aloud as well as covers of other poems, including A Ship’s Story which told the tale of the Komagata Maru arriving on Canadian shores.

“I think it takes a community to build an artist,” said Trinh, who, gesturing to the artists beside him, emphasized that the future of slam poetry is in good hands.

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