You’re Invited to Renovate at Project Rebuild, A Collaborative Poetry Project

“Move in & rennovate the poems of Larissa Lai, a.rawlings, David McGimpsey, Ray Hsu and dozens more in this collaborative poetry project initiated by Sachiko Murakami.”

Sachiko Murakami, author of The Invisibility Exhibit and Rebuild (coming Fall 2011), has announced the launch of Project Rebuild. She explains the collaborative poetry project below:

Project Rebuild began with a single poem about a Vancouver Special. I was interested in their “ugliness” and the strong reaction Vancouverites have to them. And what about replicating or  blueprinting – how can that be played with in poetry? I altered the first poem through mechanical means, and the result of these flash inhabitations was a sameness with subtle differences. These four poems appear in Rebuild, my upcoming collection, which takes up the project renovation in poetry and considers the tendency of Vancouver, its site of inquiry, to tear down and rebuild every few decades.

But what is a poem but a rental unit of language?

I grew interested in the idea of renovation in language, our brief inhabitations… and was also growing interested in collaboration. I sent the Vancouver Specials to some poets, and invited them to move in as tenants, to paint the walls, change the faucets, knock down whatever walls didn’t fit their visions. These poems became the first houses in Project Rebuild’s neighbourhood.

But the idea of extending the community persisted.

Project Rebuild allows visitors to move in to any poem/house in the neighbourhood. On the page of any poem, click on “renovate” and the poem becomes editable in a textbox. Change the nouns. Throw out the verbs. Bring in the big delete-button bulldozer and start fresh. Your poem will become a new house in the neighbourhood.

Project Rebuild challenges the notion that the poems we write belong to us, that we are anything but temporary residents in the tenement house. Poetry is a community project in which we are all participants: poems are written in context and in conversation. Project Rebuild hopes to extend an invitation to that conversation, to you.


Most importantly: you. The door is open. Come on in. Read. Write. Renovate.

The first residents of the neighbourhood were:

Jason Christie
Roger Farr
Emily Fedoruk
Jennica Harper
Ray Hsu
Larissa Lai
Alex Leslie
April Martin
Lisa McInnis
Meredith Quartermain
Nikki Reimer
Jacqueline Turner
Rita Wong

Their bios are available on the website.

Starkaður Barkarson created the website.

The Specials were drawn by Vancouver-based artists Marian Churchland and Brandon Graham.


Project Rebuild was initiated by me, Sachiko Murakami. My first book, The Invisibility Exhibit, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Rebuild is coming in September 2011 from Talonbooks. You can find me on Twitter, too. Or you can email me.


The Vancouver Special is a house particular to Vancouver, and particularly vexing to its residents. Its style is represented in nearly every neighbourhood in Vancouver. Built mostly throughout the 1970s, and designed to maximize usable lot space and to provide a legal and livable ground-floor secondary suite suitable for extended families or mortgage-helping tenants, the Specials are large, plain, and commonly considered ugly in comparison to their mock Tudor, Craftsman, and West Coast Modern neighbours.

By the 1980s, homeowners became so alarmed at the creeping advancement of the Specials into their neighbourhoods that bylaws were enacted to preserve the “authentic” character of neighbourhoods – notably in Shaughnessy, an affluent westside neighbourhood analogous to Toronto’s Forest Hill or Montreal’s Westmount. Design guidelines were drafted at City Hall under pressure from property owners to designate that new houses should “be relatively in proportion to its neighbour, be enriched with interesting detail, texture and colour, and be partially screed from the street in a manner that is characteristic of the area. The massing of the principal building should not overwhelm the site.” The Vancouver Special persists in every neighbourhood in Vancouver. For an excellent visual documentation of the housing style, please see Keith Higgins’ Vancouver Special.

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