When you consider the literary cities in the world, Ottawa does not immediately come to mind. That being said, in 2010 several of Ottawa’s poetry communities banded together to form VERSefest. The goal was simple, it wasn’t purely about talent or recognition “it’s about atmosphere and creating an awesome environment” says artistic director Matt Jones.
With a record-breaking lineup of over 60 poets, VERSefest is growing at an unprecedented rate. The festival’s main concern has always been to bring spoken and written word poets together in one communal space. This year the focus is even more on Canada’s poetry community by including bilingualism and creating an inclusive space “not only to break down barriers between genre, but languages as well” says festival administrator Avonlea Fotheringham.
The festival will be running from March 24th to the 30th and while I urge you to go to every event, realistically speaking that may be difficult. So how do you decide what events to go to? According to Matt Jones, the opener and closer are the two most balanced events showcasing eclectic mixes of French and English poets, musicians, and spoken word artists.
The opener will feature 2014 World Slam Champion Ikenna Onyegbula (a.k.a Open Secret) who will be incorporating music into his pieces. Daphne Marlatt a renowned Canadian poet and novelist will also be featured. The event will also include two experimental poets: Mehdi Hamdad and Quebec’s leading experimental poet and novelist Nicole Brossard. Hamdad is a celebrated musician, songwriter, actor, and poet who’s been performing around Canada since 2007.
The festival closer will feature recognized Canadian poet Lorna Crozier as well as Patrick Lane, winner of the Governor General’s Award for poetry, the Canadian Authors Associate Award, the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, and three National Magazine Awards. Rounding out the event will be poet and visual artist Herménégilde Chiasson and Ottawa based poet Michel A. Thérien.
These two events showcase some of the best talent in Canadian writing and are sure to inspire all attendees. They not only represent the idea of community but also showcase the push towards bilingualism that VERSefest is attempting this year.
The festival will also feature already established reading events such as the In/Words Reading Series and the Tree Reading Series. Each host monthly events year round at various locations throughout the city. For anyone looking to involve themselves in the Ottawa literary community I would recommend you attend these events during VERSefest and throughout the year.
VERSefest is a festival like no other. It’s a chance for writers to shine and inspire. The events are absolutely exhilarating and are certain to leave one stewing with creativity. The festival is not only a great opportunity to get out and see the talent in the city and country, it also serves as a great way to meet and mingle with the artists working within this wonderful city.
Michelle Duquette an editor at In/words, speaking of VERSefest said “I think VERSefest is so important because it represents an international collective of artists with a ton of amazing Ottawa sponsors. I attend the events to get involved with the literary community and learn from all of the beautiful readings and events”
Ottawa is a city filled with literary talent and creativity. VERSefest is an amazing opportunity for everyone to become aware of the local poetry scene and to familiarize themselves with a plethora of influential artists from around the world. With over 1600 attendees last year, one can expect this year to have an even greater turn out. Tickets will range from $15 for an evening pass (two events) to $50 for a full-access festival pass and will be available online and at the events. For you Carleton students don’t forget your student ID as it can get you into certain shows for free!
Check the link below for event schedules and ticket pricing.