Sachiko Murakami's Powell Street Festival project puts memories into words
When the Powell Street Festival commissioned Sachiko Murakami to commemorate Vancouver’s Japanese heritage in verse, she was overjoyed. Less pleasing, though, was the notion that she should somehow replicate Project Rebuild, her online expansion of her 2011 book Rebuild. In that project, writers were invited to “remodel” her poems about local real estate, as if they were moving into a ’70s Vancouver Special and making it their own.
That approach, Murakami says, was worth another look—but the content had to change.
“I basically used the same technology of adding to a poem and creating relationships between poems, but I wanted to use a more restricted form,” the former Vancouverite explains, on the line from her Toronto home. “And I wanted to do something that was more specific to the festival.”
Paying homage to the Powell Street Festival’s Japanese-Canadian focus, and to her own heritage, Murakami seized on the ancient art of renga: linked stanzas, often in haiku form, that build around an initial idea. In this case, that idea is memory: memories of the festival itself, of its Oppenheimer Park site, of Vancouver’s early Japanese settlers, and of the Salish culture that preceded them.
Henkσ: A Powell Street Manyway Renga, the resulting poem in progress, is an ongoing exercise in unfettered collaboration. Anyone can contribute to it, either online at the Powell Street Henko website or by writing on postcards that will be distributed at this weekend’s festival.
“Coming back to Powell Street every year, you can see a lot of change,” Murakami notes, “and the word henkσ means ‘change’. I was interested in hearing people’s experiences about how things have changed, how they have changed, how the festival has changed, how the neighbourhood has changed—but people can write whatever they want.”
The online poem is already a fascinatingly complex web of memory, meditation, and social commentary, and Murakami will build on it further with two multimedia readings at Chapel Arts during this weekend’s festival.
“I’m really excited for when the festival hits, because I think this thing is going to explode,” she enthuses. “The one problem with Project Rebuild was that people felt intimidated by, like, renovating Fred Wah’s poem or something. So I’m hoping that this project—and the different mechanics that I’ve built around it, like the postcard booth—will be a lot more inviting in getting people to realize that they can write poetry, too.”
Sachiko Murakami presents Henkσ: A Powell Street Manyway Renga at Chapel Arts from 2:30 to 3 p.m. on Saturday (August 4) and from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m. on Sunday (August 5), as part of the Powell Street Festival.