Students in the 2015 Poetry Workshop (ENGL 2901) attended various poetry reading events in Ottawa. Their reviews, featured below, reveal the depth of the poetry community in Ottawa and the insights of these young writers.
Tree Reading Series
Readers: Emily Pohl Weary and Mark Frutkin
Reviewed by Sarah Clarke
Inside the small book store, the smell of old books is overwhelming. The store itself holds shelves upon shelves of books old and new. One had to wonder how it was being held up. The overall atmosphere of the small shop is cozy, warm and inviting, full of people who mill around chatting happily. It is clear that those who are there want to be there, want to enjoy the upcoming poetry that will be read.
The reading began with a full open microphone featuring nine readers who were called up to the stand by a humorous man. Each poet held themselves with different airs, though most were found to be funny and energetic. With poems about subjects like physics to figurative wolves in an alley, each reading was quite intriguing.
We were told at the start of the open mic, that our featured poets, Emily Pohl Weary and another woman, Diana Young, were unable to make it. It was a sad thing to hear, yet Mark Frutkin was there to present his new book, something I was looking forward to. There was another young poet by the name of David Currie who read for us before the break. He was quite a humorous young man, who showed up in a dragon costume onesie. We all laughed at this. Despite two poets being unable to attend, the evening turned out to be a rather fun one.
I had never been to a poetry reading before, but it was quite an experience to be there. It was a quiet and calm place, which I imagined it to be. With the smell of old books and being accompanied by a good friend, the whole night turned out to be entertaining and eye opening.
Tree Reading Series Review
By Sarah Lemkow
On Tuesday November 10th I attended the Tree Reading Series featuring Damian Rogers, Jessica Bebenek, and many local writers. The reading was held at Black Squirrel books on Bank Street, and was open to all who wished to listen or to read their own poetic work. The location was warm and inviting, with a bake-sale like counter that sold beverages and treats to snack on and had plenty of comfy chairs to sit in. Around 8pm an introduction was given by members of the Tree Reading Series leading up to an introductions of the local poets as they each went up to read their work.
The numerous poets who presented their poetry were greeted warmly by a local, supportive audience of varying ages. These poets included J.M., Jess Backmen, Pat Macarthur, Mike Sheppers, Jane Hamilton, and Liz Roshfore. The first readier was J.M. who started the evening off with his poem “Curse of the Pharaohs”, a poem that jumped amongst different time periods. The poems ranged in differing styles, lengths, and emotions from Pat’s comical and enlightening “Jeans on the Floor” to Jane’s –the reading’s youngest poet of the evening- dark and vivid poem, “Monsters.” A nice medium of calm poetry that connected the audience to more natural concrete images were Mike’s poems “Bonzai Yew” and “Winter Soul.” One of the staff members, Chris, wrote a comical yet deep poem called “Coca Cola” which was as intriguing as it was surprising in its multitude of images of objects that the poem invited the reader to “take”.
The first headliner of the night and also who led the workshop earlier that same day, Jessica Bebenek was the last of the poets to read before the intermission. She read from a collections of newly-written poems as well as pieces from her touring anthology. Her first two poems, “Dollorama” and “Praise for Bad Behavior” from the touring anthology were creative and interesting works. The way Bebenek read was very slow and alluring, allowing the audience to grasp the meaning of every spoken word. An intermission was held to stretch and refresh over more goodies and beverages while the crowd all chatted amongst one another. This lasted for ten minutes before the attention was brought back to the stage where Damian Rogers began her readings. She read a couple of poems from the touring anthology she shared with Bebenek as well as a few works from her newly published book, Dear Leader.
Many talented poets attended the reading making it very enjoyable and something worth coming to again. The welcoming atmosphere and kind group of people Black Squirrel attracted was very inviting. The local and headlining poets were all given much encouragement in sharing their work and were supported by friendly remarks from those who listened. After the readings, the audience and the poets were left full of newly-digested poems and with a crisp and cool trip home.
For more information or if you wish to attend any upcoming Tree Reading Series events, you can visit http://www.treereadingseries.ca/workshops
Live on Elgin
Urban Legends Poetry Slam
Reviewed by Samantha Togeretz
Live on Elgin was an artist’s haven on Tuesday, November 2, at 5:30 pm. A wide assortment of poets gathered for two and a half hours to partake in and/or watch the Urban Legends Poetry Slam. It was a little different than one would expect a poetry slam to be. Instead of a stage, they had a circle illuminated by Christmas lights in the centre of the room, called the “gladiator ring” for the poet to perform in. All the chairs were organized so that they faced this ring, giving the slam a more welcoming feel. Despite the fact that part of the evening was competitive, there was no hostility here.
The event was led by a bright, smiling individual who immediately cast a sense of friendliness over the evening. This gave the newer poets the ability to share their work without fear of failure. At the beginning of every performance everyone in the room would join together in counting to three, then raising their fists and shouting “Speak!”— further strengthening a poet’s comfort at baring their soul. And they bore their souls.
The first part of the evening was an open mike slot, in which newer poets—or those who didn’t feel like their work would comply with the rules of the competitive portion of the night, or those who didn’t want to compete—could read their poetry without fear of judgment. After that was the slam portion, wherein a variety of poets competed and was judged on their performance as well as their poem.
During each poem, as is common at readings, the audience was encouraged to snap their fingers or murmur agreement when they liked a poem or an aspect of a poem. At the end of a competitive poem, a variety of pre-selected judges assigned points based off the aforementioned criteria. The only negativity in the audience came when someone thought a poem should have been given a higher score. Even then, the mantra to ‘applaud the poet, not the points’ was introduced.
There was no poet who performed badly. Every poet was exceptional, and every performance elicited a positive response from the audience. Upon discussing slam poetry, one woman in the audience said, “These kinds of things are touch and go. They can be great, or they can be awful.” This was certainly the former. With a warm environment and a welcoming crowd, for the measly price of seven dollars, I will definitely be going again.
Capital Poetry Slam
Reviewed by Shonalie Raha
On a chilly Saturday evening on November 7th, my best friend, Kayla and I had the opportunity to attend a slam organized by Capital Poetry Slam. This organization “represents spoken word and performance poetry endeavours in the Ottawa Area.” It took place at Café Alternatif at the University of Ottawa. Having never been to the Ottawa U campus before, it took us a long time to actually find the venue, if I recall correctly, we got lost five times.
My friend and I finally got to the venue, and we were very excited! Neither of us had actually been to a slam before and we were excited to see what it held; we paid our eight-dollar entrance fee and sat down. Though it was scheduled to start at 6:30, the nine slammers didn’t go up till about 7:30! Upon waiting, we were asked to be one of the judges for the evening!
Our MC for the night was a man named Rusty, he started off by reading one of his favourite pieces as well as telling us more about Capital Slam. Rusty also introduced us to a couple of Capital Slam traditions, such as raising our fists and reciting “raise it” to support the oncoming performers. As well as the other tradition was saying “come back” to first timers to encourage their return.
As there were no open mic poets scheduled for the evening, Rusty introduced Kevin Matthews, stand up comedian and Ottawa native. He dabbled in controversial topics and put his own spin on it; a spin your grandmother wouldn’t be impressed by.
Once Matthews was done, the energy of the room completely changed, a note of seriousness was immediately added once the first performer went on stage; and the next, and the next before we finally got to the last poet. I wasn’t sure if there was a set genre or quality that was predetermined, but the poems all shared qualities of body image, depression, self harm, and death. Themes, I personally am not well versed in; it was almost as if each poem had more impact than the next, and towards the end of the first round, I was on the verge of tears.
Following a very intense first round, we were given a much needed break. Feature poet “Truth Is” came on stage. Truth spoke of adventures of being a travelling spoken word poet and also recited some of her more popular pieces, touching on themes such as loss, love and friendship. Once she concluded her poetry, the slammers came back on to the stage, this time addressing topics such as rape, self harm, abuse and insecurity. Their words stained the atmosphere of the room, causing us to be more and more involved in each poets’ words.
Towards the end of the evening, a winner was announced, he performed a compelling poem on love and rape. Though there was one winner, each slammer was extremely supportive, making the whole ordeal quite heart warming!
We left with our voices strained and our eyes a little moist!
Sawdust Reading Series
Reviewed by Emily Baird
At seven pm on Wednesday, September sixteenth, emerging and established writers alike gathered in celebration of poetry both as an art form and as a community at the Pour Boy Pub. The candlelit room was warm with the energy of thirty to forty poets and poetry enthusiasts, marking the one-year anniversary of the Sawdust Writing Series with what several administrators described as “the biggest turnout yet”. Entrance was absolutely free, allowing everyone a chance to share in the enriching experience. The open mic portion gave new writers an opportunity to read before an open, surprisingly unintimidating audience. Furthermore, novices were free to pick the brains of editors, published poets, and other prominent members of Ottawa’s writing community, as well as draw inspiration from the contest winners.
A myriad of talented writers graced the humble stage, including Catina Noble, Mike Caesar, Liam Burke, Paddy Scott, Rod Pederson, Fiona Mitchell, David Blaikie, Jeff Blackman, Jean Van Loon, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Natalie Hanna, Vivian Vavassis and Kiera Sandrock. Some highlights include Kiera Sandrock reciting Preludes by T.S. Elliot with smooth confidence and genuine emotion, and inspiring the audience with her own poetry, which was equal parts relatable, humorous, and truthful. Another hilarious and heartwarming poet was Jeff Blackman, who delivered a poem about the Peterborough Petting Zoo, exploring the perspectives of different cuddly animals. During a ten-minute intermission, Jennifer Pederson, one of the event organisers, sang a powerful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and on the chorus, the audience couldn’t help but join in. Finally, Vivian Vavassis, the first ever Sawdust contest winner, headlined the show with her rhythmic and highly sophisticated poetry, punctuated by her accompanist’s melodic acoustic guitar. To finish off the night, those who bought winning raffle tickets were awarded Sawdust merchandise, paintings, and other wonderful prizes which were much more valuable than the cost of the ticket.
Far too many remarkable writers attended the event to describe here in detail. They covered a wide range of intriguing topics, from feeling melancholy in San Francisco, to jumping off bridges for recreational purposes, to turning down an offer to smoke hash with the Premier of New Brunswick. Suffice it to say, the Sawdust Series one-year anniversary brought together a diverse group of talented and supportive poets, who, due to the close quarters, had to get “snuggly”, but, as Jennifer Pederson put it, “that’s not a bad thing at all.”
For more information about upcoming Sawdust events, refer to their facebook page: www.facebook.com/sawdustreadingseries.
Tree Reading Series: Featured Reader, A. F. Moritz
September 8, 2015, Black Squirrel Books, Ottawa
By Veronica Spade
The Tree has stood by the River, even through the coldest Moons, for 35 years. Mkade-Jidmoonh happened upon him four seasons past, his purpose: a union station for written art enthusiasts.
On the verge of panic, I arch the building doorways for the number 1073; six minutes before the ‘time’. I’m noticed in my haste. I decline an offer to pass. Familiarity cedes my desperation.
Their entrance felt grand, royalty-like, they revered as he entered; trailed by a pygmy mouse, angst for a place to hide. A glance to the right, a secluded nook instills peace, and I’m content.
There are not more than 20, but the atmosphere is calmly boisterous; Age of his majority, minus myself and a few new-comers. Our imaginations will soon develop into films.
The room’s essence lit by oil lamps with a hints of a neon glow. The volumes of souls reincarnated housed towards the rear. A quaintness of yesterday pleasured in the present.
I’ve gone to cafes, workshops in conference halls, and outdoor gatherings, but I’ve only ever attended one other reading in this setting. I am drawn into its expressive comfort.
I sit in quiet-eagerness, basking in the mysteriousness of what I’m about to learn? Why. Why was I so quick to jump and select this night? Especially when I’d still be in long weekend mode?
I’m feeling out of place, but exactly where I want to be! I love poetry. It’s a stranger sort of love. My history is 15 years to the day I must say! I’ve dabbled a glimpse, but to love them close – no.
Open-mic? Pygmy mouse scurrying for food, a fruitless search. I glance upon the souls lined neatly at the back, they urge an awe. Yes. I find a comfortable view and shift my mind to joy.
Poetry is a world of time, places and events. Realms of somberness, bliss and Yuk-Yuk’s. Its ancestry birth from “a child of a preacher,” the ‘Bride’ of PEI, and the genius of “Beethoven”.
The traffic is in my ears, followed closely by a protesting band of siblings with matching tops. Mayfair holds her gripe for the duration. I scramble to locate my intent to find my way again.
Above my head is a highway of chill, luckily I brought a sweater. In vain I quench my thirst with ‘Tim’s’, whilst wishing for a cup of warm Pekoe. I am amazed I can laugh so genuinely.
A barn owl hugs a book in pink surroundings; in turn, he gently pats the mouse’s head. He’s undaunted by exterior trials: steady, strong and dedicated. 13 years, in sickness and in health.
The evening is in Sequence. A sequential flow of spoken music filled with Teachings in imagery and sound formed to my concentrations and journeying as a ritual to my Ode.
Ojibwe: M’kădě-Jĭdmoonh – Black Squirrel, Ōdě – Heart (oo = long o sound, nh = nasal sound)