Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet’s Lecture Series

Oct 18, 2017


2017 Gustafson Distinguished Poet Fred Wah Delivers Lecture Thursday October 26th

Celebrated BC poet Fred Wah’s preoccupation with water has evolved into a poem about the Columbia River written in collaboration with Vancouver poet Rita Wong that is “as long as the river.” The poem is 114 feet long and typed on either side of a printout of the Columbia River, Wah writing on one side and Wong on the other. When they came to a bridge, they would cross and switch sides.

While writing it, Wah researched the history of the river, from the Indigenous investment in it over thousands of years, to the fur traders, to the Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the United States. He also researched the river’s ecology, and how dams changed the river’s flow and banks.

Like the project that inspired it, Thursday’s lecture explores the ways in which water has operated as a basic unit of composition in Wah’s writing and as a primary element in poetic processing. His current project explores the confounding dynamics of border, nation, and treaty, the socio-political dimensions of place and names, colonization, dams, and salmon.

“Current awareness of climate change and the natural world [make} my presentation … a statement on geopoetics and how we encounter the world around us, the landscape of creeks, ponds and rivers. I hope it makes people think about the place of rivers and oceans in their own lives ….a”

Wah, who grew up in BC’s Kootenay region, became interested in writing after moving to Vancouver in the late 1950s to study music at UBC. While there, he connected with emerging Canadian poets Frank Davey, George Bowering, and Daphne Marlatt.

“I discovered it was less cumbersome to write poetry than to write music,” says Wah. “I didn’t really choose to be a writer; I … couldn’t avoid it. I was addicted to it. The community around writing was attractive for me.”

He was a founding member of the UBC-based “Tish” poets in the 1960s and is best known for founding the influential literary magazine TISH that decade. He won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1985 as well as the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the Order of Canada, and he served as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet from 2011-2013. Wah has taught at Selkirk College, David Thompson University Centre, and the University of Calgary.

Professor Farah Moosa will introduce Wah and says, “Fred Wah’s writing and practice reveals the work that poetry can do—indeed, what poetry is. Throughout his career, Wah has made space for us to think about and explore cultural memory, mixed-race identity, the role of community, and the power of language. I’m excited to hear about Wah’s current project and to see the connections between his past, present, and future work.”

Wah will give a free public reading on Wednesday, October 25 from 7:30-8:30 pm at White Sails Brewing with VIU Creative Writing student Délani Valin. The event is a fundraiser for Nanaimo Area Land Trust.

On Thursday, October 26, on VIU’s Nanaimo Campus Wah will deliver his lecture “On My Way to Get a Pail of Water,” which starts at 7 pm in Building 355, Room 203. Courtesy parking is available in Lot N below Building 355.

A selection of Wah’s books, as well as 9 chapbooks from previous lectures, will be available at the catered reception following the lecture. VIU Ralph Gustafson Chair of Poetry was established in 1998 from the estate of the late Canadian poet and his wife, Betty.


For more information, contact Toni Smith, Chair of the Gustafson Committee, at Toni.Smith@viu.ca.