is an international festival of poetry designed to showcase the diverse artistic achievement, expression and high-level activity of the vibrant poetry scene in our Nation’s Capital.
I had the privilege to speak with Canadian poet and festival director, Monty Reid, over the winter about the events at VerseFest 2015. As 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.
Check the website for more details: VerseFest 2015 Website.
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, see the links below:
*This post was originally published on Living the Dream blog in March 2015*