By Michael Poon
Poets from all walks of life gathered on Sunday for the annual Stroll of Poets literary festival. Big ones, small ones and some you would never think to be poets came from Calgary and the surrounding area to display their art. Starting at Annie’s Book Company, they cut a swath through Calgary’s north-end right into the Kensington area.
It was an exhibition of literary talent ranging in a kaleidoscope of styles from Desmond Hollox’s haunting historical poem "Centennial of Treaty Seven" to Fenna Schaapman’s light-hearted coming-of-age and panty-hose tales. The poets were as different as their poems, drawing from their myriad life experiences to express the intangible essence of human life. Rather than clash with each other, each poem became manifest within a greater whole, portraying the variety of existence.
The Stroll itself began 15 years ago in Edmonton, but only in recent years has Calgary experienced this phenomenon. Janeen Werner-King and Bob Stollworthy organized the first Calgary Stroll of Poets under the direction of the Writers’ Guild of Calgary and it came to life in the early ’90s. It is meant to be a time where professional and amateur poets can showcase their talent within a casual setting. Afterward, the participating poets become part of an anthology published of the weekend. Recently, the Stroll formed its own sponsoring organization, the Society of Poets, Bards & Storytellers.
Bob Stollworthy, although no longer organizing the event, expressed great pride in how the Stroll has developed over the years. What once began as a handful of poets has grown drastically to 45 individuals with an audience of 400.
Barbara Janusz, a widely published poet who has appeared in numerous anthologies, was once a defence lawyer who worked with young offenders. Before her life as an artist, she felt she could not express the thoughts regarding her occupation and the people she defended. Now, her poetry has become a way of vocalizing those feelings.
"Poetry speaks and exposes the truth," she said. "While we believe we are in a politically correct world, we are not. I believe that poets and all artists have a role as being social watchdogs. In Eastern Europe, the people used poetry as a way to speak out against the oppression they were under."
The Stroll, open to all poets, offers a critical audience and a chance to meet professionals in the business.