The Thursday Writing Collective Reviews the 2015 Vancouver Book Award Finalists (Part 1)

We approached the folks at Thursdays Writing Collective to see if their members would like to get involved with our Book Award and provide us with responses to the 2015 shortlisted books. They said “yes” and we are excited to share their writing you. Today, d.n. simmers and James Witwicki provide responses to Hastings-Sunrise and Live at the Commodore.

Thursdays Writing Collective is comprised of 150 activists, academics, slam poets, novelists and storytellers who explore issues of self-determination through creative writing. The Collective, founded in 2008, holds free, drop-in writing sessions in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at Carnegie Community Centre, has published seven anthologies and performs at festivals, literary events and readings. You can connect with them at

d.n. simmers on Bren SimmersHastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions)

2015 City of Vancouver Book Award Finalist Bren Simmers for

Bren Simmers’ second book, Hastings-Sunrise is about the streets around East Hastings which she describes as “landscape formed by bright awnings [advertising the] Hong Kong Bakery, Pies 2 for $7, Keys Cut Here.” She looks at swings, gardens, and Christmas lights, identifies their location and details observations about them like T.S. Eliot or V. Nabokov might. Poems list how the meeting places and stores have changed as if to balance the old with the new. “Changes tracked, as one by one, flight feathers moult, turn black.” Her writing reflects her experience as a grocery teller: ringing in the products, scanning and tallying them. She walks around the buildings as Dickens did in his beloved London. She records the voices of the people living on the sidewalk. She captures the effects of street artists’ spray paint. East Hastings, her home, is alive in these poems, a changing landscape through which she comes and goes.

2015 City of Vancouver Book Award - Finalist Review by Thursdays Writing collective member d.n. simmers of Bren Simmers’ Hastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions) byd.n. simmers is an on-line special editor with Fine Lines. He has been an active member of Thursdays Writing Collective for more than three years, after finishing The Writers’ Studio and completing a two-year Creative Writing Certificate. His work can be seen in Poetry Salzburg Review, The Common Ground Review and in five anthologies, as well as on-line in many magazines.

James Witwicki on Aaron Chapmans Live at the Commodore (Arsenal Pulp Press)

2015 City of Vancouver Book Award Finalist Aaron Chapman for

The first chapter of Aaron Chapman’s 2014 book Live at the Commodore could have been called “Gritty No More,” neatly setting up a rhyme with the real title of chapter two: The Twenties Roar. Chapman convincingly argues that development and demographics are squeezing Vancouver’s downtown entertainment district. It may be true that our aging population has made the Granville strip kinder and gentler, but the fierceness of “the condo strata committee[s which] always win in the end” has wiped out some of our most significant music venues, making the survival of clubs like The Commodore vital to our cultural well being.

Employing photographs which are often sumptuous and beautiful (and sometimes edgy and gritty), Chapman effectively works his dual purpose: to tell a compelling story and to promote the heritage value of the ballroom. Chapman is both literate and chatty. He participated in a year-­long process to archive every act that has performed at this bustling music palace. Chapman’s notes, bibliography and index invite the serious reader to dig in.

Publisher Arsenal Press has gone with a 9”x101/2” trade paperback format, expertly designed by Gerilee McBride. The use of gold, purple, orange and blue backgrounds to maximum effect and the contrasting of historical snapshots with scenic colour and black and white prints that are vivid and luxurious make this a publication that begs to be left (open) on the finest coffee tables.

2015 City of Vancouver Book Award – Finalist Review by Thursdays Writing collective member James Witwicki of Lois Simmie’s Mister Got To Go, Where are you? with illustrations by Cynthia Nugent (Red Deer Press)James Witwicki is a writer, poet and photographer who has published with Megaphone Magazine, Thursdays Writing Collective and Hope in Shadows. He has lived in Vancouver since 2010.

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