What a week.
There is a lot for us to be proud of and a lot for us to improve on, but VERSeFest was a big step forward. Last year was wonderful but this year was something more.
Here is Rusty’s VERSeFest week…
I had worked all day. The plan was to work everyday and then head over to Art’s Court etc. for the evening events. Tuesday that meant getting off work at 4, getting home at 5, then getting something to eat and getting to the Art’s Court for 6.
Who thought that was a good idea?
Immeditately there was logistical problems with the tickets and volunteers and artist liason and well, everything. We were really lucky that Ruthanne stepped forward. She got a lot of stuff straightened out. She went from being ‘available to help if needed’ to ‘indespensible member of the team’ almost instantly.
She made the problems vanish (at least from the persoective of the festival patrons).
Then there was poetry.
The 7pm show was Dennis Lee, Suzanne Buffam and Paul Tyler. I sat beside Rod Pederson this show and Rod clearly loved Lee’s work. He was beaming.
It was Paul Tyler that really struck me. His reading was unassuming but full of life and imagery. I did not pick up any books during the festival, but Tyler was the first addition to my Collected Works wishlist.
At 9pm we had Shauntay Grant and Afua Cooper. I can never say enough about Shauntay. Her words are beautiful (as is she) and he taps into this spring of life and joy and family and… she is one of those people that seems to make the world better just by being in it.
Work until 4. Home at 5. Art’s Court at 6.
The shows on Wednesday were in the studio instead of the theatre. Personally, I don’t like this. The sound quality is a lot worse and the room is ‘colder’ (not actual temperature). I felt like we are showing less respect to the poets (unintentional) who performed out there.
Just my opinion.
The 7pm show spotlighted the top four poets at the VERSeOttawa Women’s Slam Championships (recently renamed from the Ottawa Women’s Slam Championships to recognize the contributions of its sponsor…). The four women were Sepideh, D-Lightfull, Festrell and Elle P. I know all four, of course, and they are all wonderful poets, but it was Sepideh that shone like the sun this time out. Watching page poetry fans listen to Sepideh share and perform her world-inspired poetry was a treat. The talk of her performance continued through the week and I KNOW this is going to lead for some new opportunities for her. It should.
The 9pm show also had four poets (making this a PACKED night): Gregory Scofield, Helen Humphreys, Rachael Simpson and Christian McPherson.
Scofield’s poems about Riel were really interesting and Humphreys’ facilitation with prose (in the way the poets who write prose are still writing poetry…) was a fun change of pace.
Slightly different routine on Thursday. I left work just a little early and went over to the University of Ottawa. They have a brand-new ‘Slam Poetry Club’ and they asked me to come and do a workshop about Slam, paired with a writing and performance workshop by Mia Morgan and CauseMo.
That was fun. (I started by talking about the problems with a phrase like ‘Slam Poetry’. )
Then over to Art’s Court.
This was the first sign then I was starting to fray around the edges. Ruthanne brought me a couple of sandwiches because I had no time to get dinner. I ended up listening to the 7pm show through the speakers in the studio while I ate. The readers were Fred Wah, Roo Borson and Abby Paige, but I can’t say I listened too closely. My brain was checking out a little bit. My lack of downtime was catching up.
9pm was Ottawa Fountain and C.R. Avery.
First, the young poets in Ottawa Fountain were exceptional. Their poetry and performance was spot on. Their ease on stage was apparent and they won over a lot of new fans.
Then came C.R. Avery who exploded the stage with poetry and songs and music on a continuum that often erased the lines between them.
After the show, C.R. wanted to go get something to eat so he and his friend went over to Dunn’s along with Ruthanne, Loh El, Hannah Christie and myself. That was a lot of fun. C.R. is good people. Ruthanne jokes that I have a ‘man crush’ on him, but the reality is that he is my favourite performer and I envy his effortless cool.
Home at 2. I was still planning to get up to go to work at 6am at that point, but it become clear that sleep was not to be forthcoming. Sleep did not join the process until 4:30. I called in and tried to get some sleep.
I got SOME sleep. 4-5 hours worth.
The 7pm show featured Susan McMaster, Pearl Pirie and Bruce Taylor. All were entertaining though quite different amongst themselves. The difference between a reading and a reading form someone who knows how to be charming and entertaining on the mic are quite broad. These were in the latter category.
9pm was the Urban Legends Slam.
Last year the U.L. show was the one sell-out. Due to that, we asked that anyone who was leaving after the 7pm show turn in their stubs so we could make sure the maximum number of people could see the show. I was happy to see that a relatively few number of tickets were turned in. A lot of people from the 7pm reading stayed! (We didn’t QUITE sell out, but we did have to dip into those returned tickets…)
12 great poets but two clearly stood out from the crowd. PrufRock (the 2011 Urban Legends Champion and the next Capital Slam feature on March 10th) and V both wowed the crowd and the judges. In the end it was V who took the crown but it was very close! Hyfidelik was 3rd.
Just when the slam was over, Ruthanne got back from the airport where she was picking up Mike McGee! We ended up heading over to Café Nostalgica to see Ian Keteku and the Daughters of the Revolution perform. Surprise surprise, Cathy Petch and Michelle Darby were in town! We hung and chatted with them and more. Bed at 2am plus (at least it is the weekend at this point…)
Weekend maybe, but I was not clear from awesome obligations. I ‘oversaw’ Danielle Gregoire’s workshop at the Mercury Lounge at 1pm. There was a small but enthusiastic group of 6 (including a wonderful young girl of about 10, with some VERY deep poetry, and one fellow who ‘was just there to watch’ who ended up jotting down some lines. )
Ian Keteku had a workshop at 3pm, but by then Kevin Matthews had come by so I took the opportunity to head home… get a LITTLE bit of downtime and pick up Ruthanne before heading back over to the Alumni Auditorium for 6pm.
My first real disappointment of the week happened at the Alumni. The attendance was… lower then I had hoped. Forget the numbers that we beancounters have to deal with… but the two shows were wonderful and I wish 1,000 times the people could have seen it.
The 7pm set was Mighty Mike McGee and OpenSecret trading off sections of time. I hosted this show and getting to introduce such talented poets was a blessing. They are both friends and listening to Ikenna (OpenSecret) talk about some of what he went through last summer was truly wrenching.
I just when you thought you couldn’t take any more, Mike McGee dropped a fart story. Perfect.
Then came the 9pm show. Taqralik Patridge shared only two things, but the story… THE STORY. It was hauntingly beautiful and poignant. Her mastery over the language while remaining so sparse was perfect.
THEN came Ursula Rucker! What a wonder! She is an inspiration and personable. Her set was rambling in a perfectly natural way. She shared many pieces and it actually HURTS that more people of my acquaintance weren’t there. (Don’t misunderstand… there was a good crowd. I just wanted more. This was a night to remember).
We then went over to the Mercury Lounge for the afterparty. Sara puts out a great party but after a bit we needed to get some food into our artists and we were over to the post-CapSlam hangout, Zak’s. That was Ursula, Mike, Ruthanne, myself, Kate Hunt, her niece Rachel, Michelle Darby-Wyatt, Brad Morden, Kevin Matthews, and a couple more. Ruthanne left with Kate so she could get some sleep as she had to catch a flight to Saskatoon to feature at Tonight It’s Poetry on Sunday.
Another late night.
After getting TWO hours sleep, I got up and took Ruthanne to the airport. Home and then about three more hours sleep.
Then it was the Ursula Rucker workshop at the Mercury Lounge. I was not part of the workshop but I was nearby, to deal with anything that arose.
We were honoured to have Ursula share so much.
I felt like I was about to collapse. I took Ursula back to her hotel. Then home.
I have a real problem with sleeping during the day. I also knew that if I went to sleep I wouldn’t come back for the evening show, and I wanted to. So I just put on some Chet Baker and chilled for a while. I skipped the reception and just came back for the Summit series.
Phillip Levine, Pura Lopez-Colome, Phil Hall.
If you don’t know those names, check them out.
I have added Levine and Hall to my ‘must buy’ list.
Then home. Bed. Up at 6am to go to work Monday morning.