“It’s always good to fight the power!” On 8 March 2018, otherwise known as International Women’s Day, SAC’s Social Justice and Equity Committee organized poetry workshops focusing on feminism hosted by Phoebe Wang, a poet from Poetry In Voice. Poetry In Voice is an organization that strives to promote poetry among Canadian teenagers, with notable emphasis on bilingualism.

Phoebe Wang speaking to students in the library. Photo: Russell Ijaya

During Periods 1 through 4, various classes assembled in the library to participate in Phoebe’s hour-long workshops. Approximately fifty students and teachers attended each one.

Phoebe’s interactive workshop began with a brief preface about Poetry In Voice and their national poetry recital competition for high school students. Following this, she introduced the featured topic of feminism and women’s rights. She kicked off with stories about her parents’ upbringing in China. She discussed how in Chinese culture, males are more valued than females, but that she was lucky to have parents who rejected this notion and brought her up to be a strong woman.

She also coaxed audience members to share their thoughts on stereotypical ideas of what women should and should not do, sparking discussion among them about the discrimination women face. She then shared her own thoughts on feminism and stressed her belief that the young people of today will be the generation to reject gender biases and achieve wonders in terms of gender equality and female empowerment.

Handouts distributed for the poetry workshop. Photo: Russell Ijaya

Grade 10 student Maham Qaiser said, “I really liked how the workshop raised awareness about women’s issues but one part I personally didn’t enjoy was when she made us go around the room reading lines from a poem out loud.”

Phoebe shared various works themed around women by other Poetry In Voice poets including “Black Sheroes” by El Jones and “Good Day Villanelle” by Damian Rogers, with the latter being recited by Sujood Thraya, a Canadian student.

When asked about the power poetry encompasses and how it can lead to change, Phoebe said, “It fosters compassion. When I hear from a perspective of a group I might not know, it makes me experience what they’ve experienced. Poetry doesn’t always have to be about political action, it can be a way to create space for individuals, for yourself—to have that moment where you’re reflecting on where you are in your own life.”

Phoebe’s parting advice for budding young poets was: “Make space for yourself, stop judging yourself, and read as much as possible. And don’t forget to use your voice, or you’ll lose it.”