By Alexander Sowa
‘Poetry in Union: Railway Lines and Valentines’ lets travellers get a personalized love poem written by one of nine professional Toronto poets
Union Station passersby were encouraged to engage in early Valentine’s Day festivities by allowing Toronto poets to personalize a poem for them.
Commuters and visitors were invited to sit down, enjoy a free cup of hot chocolate and doughnuts while the poets did their work.
“You sit with a person in an intimate space, at a desk. Not across the desk, but together. And you just ask them questions. What’s on your mind? What’s on your heart? What do you think of when you think of train travel?” said Kate Marshall Flaherty, organizer of the event.
Flaherty continued to explain what the participants could expect at the end of their session with their Toronto poet.
“Eventually, as any poet will tell you, you get an image or a spark or an idea, and then you write for a minute or two. And then you read it to the traveller. Even amongst ourselves when we did it, it was very powerful. I can only imagine what it must be like for an unsuspecting traveller,” she said.
Hannah Martin, a marketing company owner, said that it was interesting to have someone attentively listen to what they had to say, as well having questions posed to them that people would not normally ask.
“(The poets) ask you questions … like ‘What is it in your life that’s going on that you need this for?’ And then you have to think about it,” said Martin.
Dominique Bernier-Cormier, one of the poets, described the writing process as wonderful and intimate.
“It feels like you create a space very quickly where people aren’t strangers anymore, very fast. But it’s tough because with only a couple of questions, you have to get a whole bunch of images to put in the poem,” he said.
Chloe Catan, the public art program manager for Waterfront Toronto, said that she gained a great admiration for the poets.
“I decided that I wanted to give my husband a poem for Valentine’s Day. I told Dominique the story of how we met in Mexico City. He listened to me for a few minutes, and then wrote a beautiful poem. I’m really happy,” said Catan.
‘A big first step’
The event, “Poetry in Union: Railway Lines and Valentines” was presented by the League of Canadian Poets.
According to Ayesha Chatterjee, the league’s former president, they are a “non-profit organization whose mandate is to encourage and promote poetry in Canada, as well as Canadian poets.”
This event is the first of its sort to be held by the league. “We usually don’t do events. Usually what we do is we’re in the background, we help to provide funding, we tweet, we use social media, we do stuff like that. We have an annual lecture at a conference, but this is the first time we’ve done anything quite like this. It’s a big first step,” said Chatterjee.
Flaherty emphasized that it was important for the poets involved to be from Toronto and showcase diversity.
“We really tried to have a cross-section of Toronto, which I think is the most multicultural, most diverse population in the world. It’s really important that we covered a microcosm of the world in Toronto,” said Flaherty.
The nine poets involved are all Toronto residents - Lesley Belleau, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Ronna Bloom, Michael Fraser, Suparna Ghosh, Jessica Hiemstra, Max Layton, Rajinderpal Pal and Kate Marshall Flaherty.
The Right Time
Flaherty said that she was inspired to create the event in 2017 after being sent a video of “The Poet Is In,” a similar event that was held at Grand Central Station in New York.
Since Union Station had just been renovated, she said that they were working hard in order to make it accessible, arts friendly and community wide.
Flaherty said that she hopes to make this an annual event and that they are working with Union Station to make it happen.
If you are interested in more events like this at Union Station, you can view a full calendar of all the free activities they offer at torontounion.ca/event.