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Poetry hits the bigtime in New West for National Poetry Month

New Westminster's poet laureate brings poetry to the people – via digital billboards
Elliott Slinn poetry month
New Westminster poet laureate Elliott Slinn's poems are showcased on city billboards for National Poetry Month.

New Westminster’s poet laureate has found a way to bring poetry to the people – in a big way.

As part of National Poetry Month in April, Elliott Slinn developed the Common Threads digital poetry project, which features four of his one-line poems on electronic billboards around the city.

“My hope is that these lines connect us as a community,” said Slinn’s statement about the project. “We’re all the same. Whether we are alone or together, in company or as individuals – I hope they can be a common thread of connection in our shared humanity.”

Todd Ayotte, the city’s manager of community arts and theatre, said the Common Threads digital poetry project is one of the initiatives Slinn has pursued since becoming the city’s poet laureate. He noted Slinn has being bringing poetry to the people in different ways, such as attending events and writing on-the-spot poems for people.

“Really, it’s around bringing poetry and the arts making it accessible in an engaged way,” Ayotte said.

Slinn said he’s trying to create a sense of community through his art.

“I am really trying to break down the walls that I think people have in their minds for what poetry is, and what art and self-expression can be,” he recently told city council. “I don’t think it always has to rhyme, and so my goal is to invite people in within the community and give them a space to share how they feel. I believe that when we do that, we all begin to see that we are all the same; we are all in the same boat, whereas we think we are alone.”

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she’s known Slinn for about a decade, having met him in a poetry class.

“Your poetry is so accessible and so contemporary. I know you talk about in your poetry very serious and very timely issues in a really open and generous way; I really appreciate that,” she said. “I just wanted to celebrate you and say how excited I am to see you as the poet laureate for New Westminster. I think it’s a very exciting time. And I love what you are bringing to the position.”

These are Slinn’s four one-lined poems featured on digital billboards in the city for National Poetry Month:

* Rebuild as many times as you need.

* We’re here briefly; let’s spend our time in love.

* Let the space between us be connected by peace.

* It starts with us: Developed inwardly – Expressed outwardly.

Coun. Mary Trentadue said she is thrilled that the poetry project is being put up on the digital billboards in New West.

“I saw it first on social media and then saw it driving by. I just think it is absolutely brilliant. I don’t know whose idea it was but it’s so much nicer to see inspiring words that actually make you stop and think for a second instead of ads,” she said. “I wanted to congratulate you and thank you for taking this role and making it bigger and more accessible to people so the hundreds of people that are driving by have that moment to look up and read your words.”


 Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus


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