The poet and writer, NourbeSe Philip holding her published books and smiling at the camera. Located in It was in the lounge across from the auditorium (Rm 211) in building 355.

The poet and writer, NourbeSe Philip holding her books after the poetry reading / Image via Bella Hoodle

A gathering of students listens attentively inside the student lounge in building 355 on VIU’s Nanaimo campus, myself among them. Though a cold rain pelts the windowpanes, it’s warm and comfortable inside the blue-walled lounge.

Some students occasionally write in notebooks, while others keep their hands in their laps, fully focused on the words of NourbeSe Philip, the guest poet at the front of the room.

I try to listen closely and rest on the sound and the expanding space of every word. People like Philip are my heroes: they’ve made a living doing what they love.

Do I have what it takes to be a poet?


Philip is a renowned writer and poet who visited the VIU campus on October 26 and 27 for a student-only poetry reading and lecture entitled “What Happens to Poetry When.” 

Philip was born in Tobago and currently resides in Toronto. 

She has published three poetry books: She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, Thorns, and Salmon Courage. 

She’s also written a book-length poem called Zong! and the prose poem Looking for Livingston: An Odyssey of Silence. Philip’s other work includes a young adult novel titled Harriet’s Daughter; the play Coups and Calypsos; and four collections of essays, including works like Frontiers: Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture and her 2017 collection, Blank: Essays and Interviews (stylized as Bla_K).

During the reading, we sat in awe as Philip and a student read aloud “Discourse on the Logic of Language” from She Tries Her Tongue. 

Then we were all given photocopies of the same poem, and Philip asked us to read the poem aloud. All at once, each voice in the room filled with echoes of the poem’s words. Like ripples from a calm lake. It was one of the most beautiful moments I had ever witnessed.

Fellow Nav editor and VIU student Tianna Vertigan also attended the reading and shared those moments with me. She explains why she likes going to the many readings VIU hosts on campus:

“It’s about presence,” she says. “About being present in the moment, especially a moment shared with others, with your community. It’s engagement. Some might participate more actively than others, but I think what’s important is that everyone is engaged.”

After the reading, I asked Philip a question I’ve been dying to know: what makes a poet?

Her answer was a poem in and of itself. She says, “Wherever we are, we can find poetry. It’s a coming together of certain qualities. Sitting down to a meal can be poetry, and what this means is that anyone can be a poet. Life makes a poet, and experiences make a poet.”

Poetry is not an exclusive craft. To be a poet is to recognize the beauty within the human language and the space between how we choose to use it. 


Bella is a second-year Creative Writing and English student at VIU. When she was six years old, her mom helped her write her first book, “The Shed Princess.” The Grand Forks Library even kept it on its shelves for a few weeks. These days, Bella is on a mission to have her books on every library’s shelves.

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