Posts Tagged ‘VERSeFest’

Rusty’s VERSeFest Week

Posted: March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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.

This wasn’t actually a Capital Poetry Collective event but VERSeFest founder Rod Pederson came up with the idea and asked the Capital Slam Slam Master, Rusty Priske, to put in together.

That’s me, so I will stop talking about myself in the third person. 🙂

The first challenge was to decide who would be invited. Now there are a number of very talented women slammers who are taking part in monthly Capital Slams, Urban Legends, and Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam shows but seeing how this would be the first ever occurrence of the event, I decided that it was more appropriate to recognize the history of slam in Ottawa and bring up the people who have already established themselves as important parts of the community.
I started with any woman who has represented Ottawa at the National Slam Championships at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. I then added Elissa Molino for her role in founding Capital Slam… without which, who knows where we would be now! Then I filled out the roster with season finalists from CapSlam and Urban Legends. I then invited one of those new female poets to be the sacrificial poet for the show (Mia Morgan).

Then I stopped and stared at this amazing list of poets.


I am not going to give you a round by round breakdown of the show, like I do with CapSlam recaps, because that would not really capture the magic of the event. I even considered not posting the final standings, but slams ARE a competition, so I am not going to do that. What I am going to do is tell you that the skill, style, passion, bravery and strength shown on the stage last night was humbling and inspiring.

I am also going to tell you about a magical moment that started with the only really public slip-up during the event. Due to a miscommunication between the Art’s Court and those of us running the event, extra tickets were sold after the show sold out. We were forced (due to fire regulations) to ask the final people who entered the theatre to exit (with full refund, of course). It was ugly.

But then the slammers spoke up. En masse they stood up and walked across the stage and to the area behind the curtains, where they would be unable to watch the show (they could still listen) rather than ask those extra audience members to leave. Nobody prompted them to do it. They just did. It was beautiful. (And from the sounds back there, some serious bonding happened over the event!) 🙂

This was designed as a one-off event. It won’t be. This was a VERSeFest show but if they were to decide not to hold it next year, I would still do it up, somehow. You don’t just let something like this die.

Thank you to all the poets involved. You are all wonderful, beautiful, talented and inspiring.

Here are the final results. The Top 4 poets on this list are invited to perform at VERSeFest on Wednesday, February 29th (lucky day!) in a show presented by Voices of Venus. I (or one of the other VERSeFest organizers) will be contacting them with the details shortly.

3T. Festrell
3T. Elle P
5. Danielle K.L. Gregoire
6. Jenna Tenn-Yuk
7. Scotch
8. Stargazer
9T. CauseMo
9T. Sarah Musa
11. Rage
12. Elissa Molino

Every one – amazing.

Trapeze Artist

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I have been posting my poems in chronological order, successfully… until now.

It seems I missed one. It was almost pretty bad as a poem I like was nearly lost FOR ALL TIME!!!

You see, when I decide one of my poems is appropriate for slamming, I tear the page out of my initial notebook, fold it up and stick it in my pocket. That way I am ALWAYS trying to memorize it. Once it is done and performed I will copy it into my ‘good’ book and then post it up here.

Sometimes that original page gets pretty raggedy, but I never want to ‘change’ it until the piece is memorized.

I just found that raggedy copy of ‘Trapeze Artist’, faded and ripped, memorized (fleetingly) and performed, but never recopied and posted. I just plain missed it.

Good thing I found it before it degenerated any further!

CONTEXT – December, 2010

Back when I first starting writing poetry in 2006, I found a quote from Bob Dylan about being called a poet. I tore it out of the magazine (GQ, I think) and stashed it away. I found it again and decided to write this poem.

To be clear, I do not like the ‘page vs stage’ thing, but I also think denying it is there is just putting blinders on. During my time involved with poetry I have NEVER heard someone in the spoken word community bashing ‘page’ poets. The worst I have ever heard is someone saying that the didn’t really read poetry (and THAT was from a fan, not a poet).
Some of the things I have heard ‘page’ poets say about ‘stage’ poets, on the other hand, were very insulting and offensive.

Does that mean I think all ‘page’ poets think that way? Of course not, but I have performed at a show where the ‘serious poets’ looked at me like I was some sort of cockroach scampering across their formal dining table.

I wrote this poem not as an attack on ‘page’ poets (At all!) but as a response to those who try to stigmatize the art that I, and people I respect, create and perform.

In the time since I wrote this, more barriers have fallen between the two camps, enough that maybe there will cense being two camps… maybe. The biggest of these was VERSeFest.

Every day, in every way, things are getting better.

    Trapeze Artist

“I fly through the air
With the greatest of ease,
The daring young man
On the flying trapeze.”
People ask what I do
And I say poetry.
Forget the day job
Instead I lob
Verbal grenades
That explode, launching razor-wire
Or emotional glass shards,
Bringing it hard or light
To flee or fight
The ghosts
That haunt my dreams.

I share and entertain.
Despair and exclaim,
Leaving my heart and guts
Speading across the stage
Like the drainpipe
On a killing floor.

But is it poetry?
We call it spoken word
And who can deny?
We speak all right,
And yell, sing, chant, scream.
From shotgun blasts
And rat-a-tat tommy gun staccato,
Syrupy sweet and chili pepper
Razor-sharp sabre tongues and
Pin-pricked earworms
As you perch on the edge
Of your seat.

I have heard people say that
Slam poetry isn’t poetry at all.
It is bombastic and self-aggrandizing,
As if poetry requires a certain tone.
It is called dramatic monologue
Or stand-up comedy,
As if poetry requires a certain form.

They say slams aren’t art
But a complex set of moving curtains
Revealing mirrors that show
Only what the performers
(Don’t call them poets)
Want to show you.
Carnival barkers whose job is
To pull the wool stocking cap
Low over your eyes
To convince you that poetry
Is somehow cool and not a dead art
As you have been convinced
By a legion of barely interested
And less interesting
High-school literature teachers.

But it isn’t poetry.
It is spectacle and the braying
Of the ignorant masses,
Pulling down the ivory towers
To the thudding bass of a
Hip-hop beat.
As if the blowtorch blast
From a fired up flim-flamming
Is being used to ignite the
Funeral pyre for ‘real artists’
Sitting atop a burning book bonanza.

Sometimes we join in,
Hiding behind ‘spoken word’
To defend against sideways looks
When declaring poetry.
Shouting SLAM from the
Rooftops while slipping poetry
In through the back door,
Hoping nobody notices.

Bob Dylan eschewed the title poet
Because its meaning was so unlcear.
It encompassed so much
Yet explained so little.
Who defines the word
Controls the art
And there are peots the world over who never write a word.
A poet is a poet is a poet.
He rejected the title
And called himself a trapeze artist.

So is it poetry?
When we emote or opine
Rhyming ricochet or free verse
Fellations on a theme of
Raised voice relativity
Or potshot prophecies?
When we entertain, educate
Or enlighten?
When we reflect or expose?
Saline or sucrose?

Is it poetry?


“I fly through the air
WIth the greatest of ease,
The daring young man
On the flying trapeze.”

I had a bad week that turned into a great weekend.

I am going to talk about VERSeFest soon, in another post, but while I was there I was interviewed for a promotional video. One of the questions was something along the lines of ‘what does poetry mean to you’. I blathered some heartfelt nonsense. (I really speak poorly, which is odd since I work in ‘spoken word’ poetry, but there it is. I stumble over my words and I have a hard time saying what I want to say. I have heard it kindly referred to as my mouth not being able to keep up with my brain. I don’t know, but it sure makes me a lousy host, as anyone at our Saturday night show can attest. It sure was a good thing we had some amazing poets to make people forget about my stumbling mumblings…)

Here, however, I want to give you my real answer by telling you a story.

I have been down lately. I could give excuses about problems at work or trouble writing good poetry or things (physically) falling apart around me or money issues or my own barely functioning feelings of adequacy or stability or…whatever.

The real issue is that depression doesn’t need a reason.

Wednesday morning I took Ruthanne to the airport. She was being flown out to the St.John’s Storytelling Festival to run their Story Slam and perform.

I drove back home and called in sick to work. This was legit. I had to get up way too early after staying up too late with Ruthanne and I figured I would literally fall asleep at my desk. If it was just being tired, that would be one thing, but I was feeling really off-kilter. Ruthanne being away didn’t cause it, but it meant I got way too much time to… wallow.

I was planning to go to VERSeFest that night to see Voices of Venus (an erotica showcase featuring Beth-Anne Fischer? That could certainly cheer ANYBODY up…), but I couldn’t get myself to go.

That is one of the effects of depression, by the way. An event that I was planning to go to that would make me feel better? Nope… can’t bring myself to go. Even amidst my self-awareness (bit of a pain in the ass, that is…) I couldn’t do it.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I always have trouble sleeping when Ruthanne is away, but this was worse. At some point, well past midnight, I realized I couldn’t go to work Thursday. I called in.

Thursday was no better. It was more of the same actually. I felt terrible and couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The one thing I TRIED to take care of (we had a problem with a closet bar that needed fixing) failed and it seemed like the worst thing in the world. Another feather on top of another feather on top of another feather on that poor camel.

Once again, I had planned to go to the Oneness Showcase and the other VERSe events that night but couldn’t get myself to go.

Then it happened.

Somewhere between 2 and 3 am early Friday morning, I decided to write.

I wrote a poem called Insomnia. I unloaded onto the page the weight that felt like it was pinning me down. Is it the greatest poem ever? Probably not, but it sure felt like it at the time.

When I was done, I immediately wrote another (called Stroll On) that had been rattling around in my brain but hadn’t come out. This one had NOTHING to do with the problems I was having but in the process of writing the first one, it seems like I reminded myself of who I am and what I do. All the stupid shit at work and in my head and whatever doesn’t change that. I am who I am and I do what I do.

And to anybody who that isn’t good enough for (or anybody who wants to rip apart this sentence for grammatical clarity) fuck you.

And to be clear… those people I am referring to are in my head. I have amazing, supportive people around me. It is all me being an enemy to me.

(As an aside, I can’t wait for Ruthanne to get home so I can share them with her. Nobody gets to hear my poems before she does… well, except that one I wrote for our Anniversary…)

I called in sick one more day. Even though I was feeling much better, I still didn’t get enough sleep.

Friday night I went to VERSeFest and spent time with people who find poetry to be as important as I do.

(As I said, I will talk more about the festival soon,,,but here, before I forget, if Karen James ends up reading this… thank you. THANK YOU. THANK YOU!)

So, I am feeling better. Why? Poetry. It gives me a way to let those inner demons out and spin them into something creative.

Can I say such a grandiose statement as ‘without art, we are nothing’?

Maybe not, so just let me say…

Without art, I am nothing.

And THAT is what poetry means to me.