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Live the lives of poets at Valley Voices Vernon reading

Clare Thiessen and Michael V. Smith read from their latest collections at the Bean Scene April 17
Poets Clare Thiessen and Michael V. Smith read from their latest collections at the Bean Scene April 17. (Contributed)

Poems are windows into another person’s life—their ups, their downs, their in-betweens. Reading poetry is a chance to walk in that person’s shoes, to see a fleeting moment through their eyes in hopes that it will change your perspective, forever.

Okanagan readers can experience two excitingly different lives told through poems and powerful prose at a Valley Voices poetry reading at the Bean Scene Café in Vernon on April 17. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. prior to the 7 p.m. reading. Admission is by donation and books will be available for sale.

Featuring poets Michael V. Smith and Clare Thiessen, the reading brings together two thought-provoking collections: one written over decades and discovered by accident, another an outlet for the words of a survivor poured onto the page.

Smith—an award-winning poet, author and screenwriter—will read from his new book of poetry Queers Like Me.

“I found this book in my files kind of by accident. I went looking through journals and found a bunch of poems I had abandoned in draft form. I decided to edit them and make a little chapbook for my 50th birthday,” says Smith. “That got me going deeper in my files where I found a bunch of long poems that really suited this suite. I put them all together and, voila, I had a new book. It was the strangest experience to find a book had sort of accumulated out of the blue.”

With some stories written over 10 years ago, a collection of poems about family and growing up and a 58-page story called Grandma Cooper’s Corpse inspired by an online show created during the pandemic, Queers Like Me brings poetry into the style and feel of a good, long chat.

“I hope this book gives readers a sense of what it means to be me,” says Smith. “As a gay guy who grew up poor in a small town, there aren’t a lot of books where I see myself in the world. I’m always reading books where folks don’t sound like me, which is a thrill, really. I hope readers will appreciate reading about someone who doesn’t sound like them.”

Sharing stories from her debut chapbook tiger poems, Thiessen—a poet, film photographer and chapbook press publisher—knows what it’s like to have a collection of personal poems come together over several years.

“The chapbook came about very slowly as I started to process a traumatic situation from my teen years. It happened organically, writing as an outlet, and then it started to form a narrative with patterns as I wrote more poems in the suite,” says Thiessen. “It started with my own experience with abusive men and turned into a reflection on abusive men in general. It’s about fear and healing.”

Written over two years, the collection of 15 poems has a heaviness as Thiessen shares very personal experiences. Thiessen only hopes that readers can relate to and learn from tiger poems.

“I operate a small chapbook press, broke press, and with my press I find myself drawn to manuscripts that are stark, that are accessible, and that have concrete imagery and a strong narrative throughout,” says Thiessen. “I hope that is what readers find when they engage with my work as a writer.”

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