VerseFest: A World of Poetry in Ottawa
By Arwen Faulkner
VerseFest is an international festival of poetry created to showcase the diverse artistic achievement, expression and high-level activity of the poetry scene in our Nation’s Capital. Recently, I had the great privilege to speak with Canadian poet and festival director, Monty Reid. As current Managing Editor at Arc Poetry Magazine, and with more than a dozen published collections under his belt including soon-to-be released “A Big Zoo” (BuschekBooks) and “Meditatio Placentae” (Brick Books), Reid is a household name on the Canadian literary scene.
For centuries, poets have come together to celebrate their art through readings and festivals. Do you believe that gatherings of this nature, such as VerseFest, are important? And if so, can you explain why?
They are, and not just within artistic communities. They help build a sense of community and offer a chance to celebrate the work that gets done, often in quiet rooms, and sometimes under adverse circumstances. There’s a chance to share and learn from people you might not otherwise get a chance to meet. And they’re a way of reaching out to a broader community. All that, plus they’re fun.
I attended VerseFest for the first time last year and, while I enjoyed the unique and personal vibe of each individual performance, I also appreciated the way each blended together to create a beautifully cohesive whole. Is this difficult to accomplish, with such a wide variety of poets and performers?
Yes, we work at it. Sometimes it comes off, every now and then, it doesn’t. But even when it doesn’t, what transpires can be interesting. We’ve made a point of integrating Spoken Word and more traditional poetry into the festival. We’ve always had international guests, and this year, we’re including a strong francophone component. We’re looking at ways to incorporate an element of visual and concrete poetry into the festival as well. So we’re juggling a lot of different elements in an effort to stay fresh. That’s one reason why we’re always looking for new ideas and new volunteers.
In the past, I have observed a tangible sense of friendship and camaraderie at VerseFest and other local events. Is this typical of the Ottawa poetry scene, or even the greater Canadian poetry community, in general?
The Ottawa poetry scene is pretty remarkable. Just look at the Bywords calendar—there are events going on every night. There are long-term presences, like the International Writers Festival and Arc Poetry Magazine, and so many new micro-presses like Apt. 9, Phaphours, In/Words, and others. There’s edgy work and conservative work. There’s publishing in English and French and Spanish, as well. And, in spite of all the differences, there’s a deep sense of mutual support. This doesn’t happen everywhere. Toronto has a much bigger poetry community, for instance, but it’s more fragmented. In a smaller city like Ottawa, we all need each other to make anything work, to make our voice heard.
What are some of the performances you are most excited to see this year?
I’m excited by the whole program. It’s a deep lineup, with tremendous variety. I’m thrilled that we’ll be hosting Chilean poet Raul Zurita for his first visit to Canada. Nicole Brossard and Daphne Marlatt are on together on opening night. Armand Ruffo will be here with his Thunderbird poems and Hermenegilde Chiasson will be here from Moncton. Sheri-D Wilson and Lillian Allen will be performing. And there will be newcomers like Claire Caldwell and Stevie Howell.
Do you have any parting advice for young poets or emerging performers new to the scene?
Get to VerseFest. Eat up the variety of performances. Never be afraid of new ideas.
An annual event, VerseFest 2015 runs from March 24-29th. Check the website for more details: http://versefest.ca/year/2015/. Passes: $50. Event: $10. Carleton students: Free (with ID).
Three-time winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, Reid won the 2007 Lampman-Scott Award for “Disappointment Island” (Chaudiere Books), which was also nominated for the Ottawa Book Award, and has been short-listed for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry on three occasions. Extremely prolific, Reid’s work can often be found online at Dusie, Drain, and ottawater, or in print in The Malahat Review, Grain, and Prairie Fire, to name but a few. He also plays mandolin and guitar in a band called Call Me Katie. For more info about Monty Reid, go to: http://www.brickbooks.ca/bookauthors/monty-reid/ http://www.chaudierebooks.blogspot.ca/2014/08/author-spotlight-4-monty-reid.html
A second year student of English Literature at Carleton University, Arwen is also an editor at Anthem Little Magazine, Director of the Ottawa Journal Project and Supermom. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, BareBack Magazine, Passion: Poetry, and Anthem, as well as online at CBC, Cadigan Creative, and Momastery. Recently, Arwen spoke with Canadian poet, Carolyn Smart about her friendship with Bronwen Wallace. See the link below:
Elegy: In Memoriam (Carolyn Smart remembers Bronwen Wallace)
Recently, I had the good fortune to be in contact with Carolyn Smart. During our exchange, she spoke passionately about her friendship with Bronwen Wallace, and shared some deeply personal memories about their time together. It was both an honour and privilege for me, in some small way, to bear witness to the great affection between these two strong women.
Carolyn Smart and Bronwen Wallace met in the early eighties at a poetry reading hosted by Wallace in Kingston, and the pair became “fast friends,” often sharing their work privately or attending public readings together. “Bronwen Wallace was my closest friend for nearly seven years,” Smart states. “Not only was she a close friend, she fulfilled many roles in my life, including mentor, editor, and role model. She was both the wisest and funniest person I knew…”