By Vivian Vavassis –
The wooden table is crowded. Eight of us cram around it, poets’ names flying back and forth. The cheerful rollicking twang of bluegrass rolls in through the adjoining room where a number of banjo players are jamming. We are nestled upstairs in the historical Carleton Tavern, one of several places we gather frequently to discuss poetry, funding, and how to pull off the seventh annual edition of VERSeFest, Ottawa’s International Poetry Festival.
This year’s festival will run March 21-26. More than sixty poets across Kitchissippi, greater Ottawa-Gatineau, Canada, and international borders will gather for the week-long festival. We’ll be celebrating spoken word, more traditional poetry, haiku, irreverent sound experiments, lyrical beauty, and even a hard-metal poetry group wielding electric guitars and verse.
Kitchissippi poet and former performer-turned-organizer Pearl Pirie offered this take on the festival: “Unlike other festivals where there’s fiction and non-fiction, there’s one stream of poetry. More of a gush or geyser really. It is a bit of a homecoming.”
“Homecoming” describes the festival well for a few local poets. Former Kitchissippi resident Brandon Wint, who currently lives in Edmonton, will be returning for a performance Wednesday, March 22. A long-time local favourite for his gentle, spiritual poems, Wint promises an evening of transformative verse. Current residents Sandra Ridley and Marilyn Irwin will also be returning to the VERSeFest stage. While Ridley will be sharing poems from her new collection, Silvija (BookThug), Irwin will be delivering a lecture as part of the Factory Reading Series. World Slam Champion Amélie Prévost, award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel, and Governor General Award winner Steven Heighton are equally expected to draw big crowds.
VERSeFest acts as a showcase for the some of the most talented poets writing today. In festival Vice-President D.S. Stymeist’s words: “VERSeFest accelerates our understanding of the diversity and universality of voice. Alongside international stars, such as Ulrikke Gernes (Den.), Louis Bertholom (Fr.), and Leanne O’Sullivan (Ire.), this year we have the incomparable Mark Doty (Am.) performing. Doty writes poetry so intimate and fearless that we too are called to speak the truth to convention, no matter the risk.”
This year also marks the return of Ottawa’s Poet Laureate Program, championed by VERSeFest President Emeritus Rod Pederson and current President Yves Turbide in collaboration with the City of Ottawa. The laureates will be unveiled in a ceremony on Sunday March 26, where they will each join Doty in taking the stage for a reading.
In a few short weeks, the festival will begin. For now, preparations continue feverishly as the final details come together. Come celebrate our local poets and acquaint yourself with some new ones as well.
VERSeFest takes place March 21-26, 2017. The main stage is at Knox Presbyterian Church (120 Lisgar St.), with special events taking place at LIVE! On Elgin and Pressed. For additional venue listings, times, and tickets, visit versefest.ca.