Megaphone News: We pay tribute to the longtime Megaphone vendor and prolific Downtown Eastside poet
Remembering Jim Ryder
By Jessica Hannon, with Jackie Wong
Just shy of what would have been his 53rd birthday, longtime Megaphone vendor and Downtown Eastside poet Jim Ryder died on October 31. Jim was in hospice in Prince George, B.C. when he died, surrounded by loved ones. Jim is survived by his mum, Eunice (Sam), and siblings, Gerard (Liz), Brigid, Anthony, and Rachael. He is predeceased by his dad, John Ryder.
Jim grew up in Prince George with a single mum in a family of five kids. Always a quick wit and a bright mind, he was completing his work too quickly in first grade for his teacher to keep up—so much so that after a month he was skipped ahead to Grade 3 to finish the year. Even as a young child, he was a questioner, always challenging the status quo and unsatisfied with superficial or dismissive answers.
His family remembers him laughing at Monty Python bits, schooling everyone at Trivial Pursuit, and causing havoc in the neighbourhood with his brothers and friends, setting things on fire and making homemade “bazookas” out of pop bottles.
His youngest sister Rachael remembers his attempt to secretly grow marijuana in his mum’s vegetable garden. Since it was her job to weed the garden, he made certain to teach her which “weeds” shouldn’t be pulled. His brother Anthony recalls Jim—always the storyteller—spooking him with nighttime stories of 25-foot tall Muppet-monsters reaching in their shared bedroom window.
Jim was a massively talented poet with a quick wit, a wry sense of humour, and a hip-hop sensibility. He was published in Megaphone more than a dozen times, and several times in Megaphone's special literary edition, Voices of the Street. He was also published in Geist magazine, and in his own self-published chapbooks, including his most recent, 2014’s Cygnet, which he published with the support of a Downtown Eastside Small Arts Grant.
His writing reflected his thinking: it crackled with a freshness that uncannily reflected what it means to live here and now, in a bruised yet hopeful present day. All of this was executed with an effortless swagger born of a person so hip he couldn’t pretend to be anyone else.
A big man with a resonant voice, Jim was frank. He spoke straightforwardly about his experiences with addiction and mental illness. He seemed to get a kick out of speaking so plainly about things others might choose to hide away.
And he did it with style. Jim spoke and wrote with an economy of phrasing that captured deep emotional subtleties. In conversation, it was clear he’d spent time considering the big questions in life, and in our talks he embodied what he held dear: empathy, compassion, and an ever present understanding of how important it was to hold space for the hard stuff.
He was confident in his intellect and his art—he knew when he’d hit something right. If he found something amusing or was particularly pleased with a joke he’d made himself, you’d be treated to a quick flash of his impish grin and his eyes would crinkle at the corners.
Jim loved hip-hop and claimed many rappers as artistic influences, including Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Common. His work often surfaced the harsh realities of living in poverty, with a tragi-comic sensibility and a searing clarity of thought around its emotional impacts. He was a compelling, confident performer, bringing down the house at several Megaphone events over the years by reading his poetry with the strut of an MC.
Jim was a deeply kind and loving man.
Though he had little, he was resourceful, and always quick to share. He encouraged other writers and poets, and when he gave a compliment you knew he meant it—he wasn’t one for empty words.
In the words of Jim’s mum, Eunice, “About four weeks before Jim’s death—not knowing how ill he actually was—we had a phone conversation in which he mentioned, ‘Things aren’t perfect—I have good days and good experiences—but also days that don’t go well and I struggle with chronic pain. But I find I have so much to be grateful for.’”
Through his life and poetry, Jim showed us how to endure through hard times, to find solace and purpose through art, and to know that our struggles do not detract from our worth. He’ll be remembered as fiercely talented, resourceful, loving, and generous.
Much of Jim’s poetry had a sharpness to it, but a favourite of mine, “Madagascar,” was a departure from his typical style: a little softer. When Jim read this piece at the last Megaphone event he spoke at, he brought the room to tears. The last stanza reads:
Bring me walls when I need boundaries,
Bring me roads when I need to roam,
Bring me open arms to welcome me,
When I finally stumble home.
Our arms are open to welcome you home, Jim. Rest easy.