Archive for the ‘Spoken Word’ Category

Not only is there a fabulous new Ottawa arts blogger in town, Matias of ‘Ottawa Showbox’ also gave me a flattering review for my impromptu poetry performance at new series ‘4in1’ Ottawa Park Acoustic Sessions, hosted by photographer/music lover Ming Wu. Perfect end to a magical two weeks in Canada’s capital.


Jessica Ruano gave me a second, more forceful dose of spoken word. She was the designated ‘time killer’ since Del Bel and Lisa Bozikovic had to run for sound check. Wow. Jessica touched on themes I think we all experience at different points in our lives – particularly powerlessness, but also strength to recover from our times of weakness. She kicked ass.

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It also reminded me that no matter where I go, poetry is one of my homes – Megan Ann Ward

Bang Said the Gun was my saving grace last time I was in London, a consistent source of entertainment, inspiration and camaraderie with my fellow bangers. And yes, the innuendos are endless.

Affectionately referred to as the series for people “who don’t necessarily like poetry”, the event draws in stand-up poets (spoken word poets, performance poets, musical poets…) from across the country; I heard that people had traveled in from Oxford and Surrey, just for the evening. I had them beat because I came all the way from Canada, dontcha know.

Hosted by a waistcoated wood sprite named Daniel Cockrill, the evening is four-fold: it kicks off with recurring feature performances from co-organizers Martin Galton – known for his infamous books of ‘love’ and ‘hate’ – and Rob Auton – reputed for his impeccable comic timing -, followed by a 10-minute set from the winner of the previous week’s ‘Raw Meat Stew’ (more about that later), then an invited feature or two (usually someone who has made it ‘big’ on the UK scene), and finishes off with a raucously rushed open-mic that is called, you guessed it, the ‘Raw Meat Stew’.

With a set soundtrack and familiar jokes, the evenings progresses like a well-timed, well-loved radio show: the host gets his own introductory music and he riles up the crowd by holding up a handmade sign saying “Shake”. Quite happy to play along, everyone in the audience picks up their noise makers and hoots and hollers as loudly as they can. As the host notes, “it’s not a real poetry show until the neighbours come to complain!”

You’re welcome to a front-row seat on one of the sleek red couches for the perfect view, and if you enjoy being picked on. Daniel always chooses one person to wear a silly (I mean, supremely dignified) hat and lead the cheering. He always checks in first: “Do you have a lot of responsibility in your life? Married? Job? Kids? No…? Then this is the job for you!” Another person close to the front will be chosen to judge the ‘Raw Meat Stew’ poets later in the show.

This past Thursday the Bang audience was treated to a number of stellar features. The first was the series’ writer-in-residence (at least, that’s how she was introduced) Mel Jones, who had recently published a book of poetry called Fuck Me (If You Think You’re Hard Enough). And no, I’m not kidding.

You can see headliner Will Stopha’s performance in the video above: it was awfully sweet of him to do a ‘Welcome to London’ poem just for me!

And then there was headlining duo Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna. Wow wow wow. I had seen these two the last time I was in London (in fact, I was in the audience when Katie first performed at Bang back in August), and I knew they were great — but their performance was something truly original. Essentially, it was a narrative piece about a guy and a girl who become disillusioned by their friends’ respective stag and hen parties; they lock eyes at a club, and the night progresses from there. Simple enough story, but the poetry of the piece is gripping: the rhythm is suspenseful and playful, engaging and intelligent. You become acquainted with these complex characters very quickly and empathize with their growing frustration regarding the drunken company: “Oh, I love it,” repeats one particularly obnoxious hen. The duo told me afterward that they are hoping to expand this piece into a full-length performance. Theatre as poetry; poetry as theatre. This is a new trend (at least to my eyes and ears) that I’m sure will only increase in popularity, especially when the quality is this high.

We know it’s time for the ‘Raw Meat Stew’ when a hilarious, somewhat graphic cartoon appears on the projection screen. And this is how it works: there are 8 spots on the open-mic sign-up sheet; each performer gets 2 minutes to share a poem, a song, or some other type of performance. Influenced by round of applause, the randomly selected judge (and maybe some nearby friends) get to decide whose performance was the best and who wins the ‘golden gun’ award and a feature set the following week. This week’s winner was a striking-looking woman who shared an anecdotal poem about the violent things she would like to do to her former landlord; I’m sure many of us can relate.

And I performed the following short poem:

You stuck your tongue down my throat on Clarence Street

And I think it was the most beautiful thing that has ever happened

Tourists choked on their ice cream

Servers at the Hard Rock Cafe smashed their plates and cried ‘Opa!’

And motorcyclists revved their engines in approval

And after gorging ourselves on slabs of chocolate cake shaped like mud pies

We drove home in a pick-up truck made for two

Bang Said the Gun takes place every Thursday at The Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street near Borough Station on the Northern Line. Start time: 8pm. Show up very early if you want to score a place on the open mic list.

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In Ottawa, poetry is everywhere. Our city boasts 14 poetry series and attracts up to 1000 participants and audience members every month. VERSe Ottawa has compiled a list of some of the upcoming poetry events for May. Enjoy!

LIPS Slam | CP Cinemas, 17 Albert Street in Carleton Place
Monday, May 2 at 6:30pm | featuring Ikenna Onyegbula aka OpenSecret
event listing on Facebook

Ottawa International Writers Festival – Ghazal Concert | Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Avenue
Monday, May 2 at 8pm | featuring Lorna Crozier, Rob Winger, Sandra Ridley and Robert Pinsky

The A B Series
Gallery 101, 301 ½ Bank Street, Unit 1
Friday, May 6 | Anne Simpson, Colin Morton and Susan Elmslie | 8:30pm | $7
NAC Fourth Stage, 54 Elgin Street
Wednesday, May 18 | featuring Koichi Makigami and Tokyo Taiga | 7:30pm | $20-30
Wednesday, May 25 | featuring Jaap Blonk with playback | 7:30pm |

Capital Slam | Mercury Lounge, 56 Byward Market Square | 6:30pm | $10
Saturday, May 7 | Semi-Finals featuring Ottawa’s top 12 slam poets
event listing on Facebook

Sasquatch Writers Performance Series | Royal Oak II, 161 Laurier Avenue East | 2pm | FREE
Sunday, May 8 | featuring Alastair Larwill
Sunday, May 22 | featuring Pearl Pirie
event listing on Facebook

Dusty Owl Reading Series
Carleton Tavern, 223 Armstrong Avenue | PWYC
Sunday, May 8 | featuring Ronnie R. Brown, John Lavery, and Phillip Victor Bova | 5pm
Elmdale House Tavern, 1084 Wellington Street West | PWYC
Sunday, May 22 | 15th Anniversary Family Reunion, Fundraiser for the Ottawa Food Bank | 2pm

Voices of Venus | Umi Cafe, 610 Somerset Street West | 7pm | $5 (PWYC)
Tuesday, May 10 | featuring Ghadeer Malek
event listing on Facebook

Tree Reading Series | Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue | 8pm | PWYC
Tuesday, May 10 | featuring Jeramy Dodds and Shane Rhodes
Tuesday, May 24 | featuring Kevin Matthews and Chris Jennings

Urban Legends Poetry Slam | Roosters Cafe at Carleton University | 6:30pm | $5-7
Friday, May 13 | featuring TBA
Friday, May 27 | featuring Oveous Maximus
event listing on Facebook

Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam | Ottawa Public Library, 120 Metcalfe Street | 6:30pm
Monday, May 16 | featuring Tanya Davis
event listing on Facebook

In/Words Reading Series | The Clocktower Pub, 575 Bank Street | 8pm
Wednesday, May 25 | featuring Claudia Coutu Radmore
event listing on Facebook

Bywords Launch of Quarterly Journal | The Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street
Saturday, May 28 | Spring Issue and Cornerstone Fundraiser


Also, today is Election Day. Please VOTE CULTURE!


For more information on VERSe Ottawa and the listed events, please consult our website: VERSeFest.ca

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Where are the poets?

Hiding between the pages of books

Mumbling loose phrases on street corners

Or wringing their hands behind the red curtain

I find it funny that a poem has to ‘hold up’ on the page in order to be considered successful. Would you say the same thing for a musical composition or a choreographed dance?

I watched her take off her shoes, her socks, her jewelry

Before approaching the microphone

Her words strung together like the Spanish guitar

Her hands flowed like a Flamenco dancer, vibrant

Music can be a literary art when it involves lyrics; poetry can be a musical art when it involves rhythm.

Speak the speech I pray you

Let not the instruments muffle the sound of your voice

Nor the awkward rhythm of language make music coarse

We are for each other

We are for each other

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VERSeFest kicks off in ONE WEEK. Who’s excited???!!!

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Poetry in all forms has become my obsession these days. I especially love learning about powerful female voices that speak for their country with grace and elegance and some rather shocking imagery.

Valzhyna Mort from Laura Hope-Gill on Vimeo.

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You told me once “Don’t pout. It’s unbecoming”

And I cried for a week

You told me I should develop a thicker skin

And I wondered why you felt the need to teach me that lesson

When it was you who seemed to value my skin for its softness

And my lips for their sweetness

And my body for its tendency

To let you in


In this sometimes harsh world, is it any surprise

That kind words are desperately sought after

Even if they’re not always sincere

Even if it’s just a ploy to get ahead

To get me into bed

Because then, hey,

At least I’m getting laid


I will soak up your sweethearts and lovers’ talk

Like syrup on pancakes

I will sacrifice my working hours

For some quality time and late-morning showers

Even if, in the end, my efforts are not matched

And the result is frustration, disappointment, distress…


When my mother finds me grieving over yet another seething injustice

She says to me, fondly

“You’ve been this intense since you were five years old”

And while I’m not entirely sold on the idea

That our personalities are determined at such a young age

It gratifies me to realize that I haven’t yet passed that stage

Because the truth is

I don’t want to develop a thicker skin

I don’t want to win arguments based in unfair fashion

Or use my passion to formulate malicious attacks

Or pack my slate full of anger and hate

Because while I’ve been hurt

I’ve not yet been broken

And while I’ve spoken my mind about the kind of lovers I’ve known

The kind who’ve shown themselves unworthy of the title


My tone, I believe, has always been mischievous, playful, without regret

And I begin each new love affair full of unabashed optimism

Yes, it’s a constant struggle

But each new person is different

And each new person has the potential

Has the essential elements that make it possible to feel something


And with a thicker skin, I’m afraid I might not be able to sense your soft eyelashes brush my face

Or your careful fingertips along the sides of my neck

Or your gentle lips pause against the backs of my knees

I never want to close myself off or shut myself up or turn my face away

To protect myself from what you might say

Because what you might say might be beautiful

You see

Sometimes I can feel my heart beat

And I never want to lose that feeling

Written by Jessica Ruano

September 2010

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It’s raw and it’s freakin’ addictive.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word is in town. WHAT!

That’s right: 100 of the best poets from across Canada are here in Ottawa this week to participate in workshops, showcases, poetry in the streets, and the biggest slam competition in Canadian history. Example? In 2004, we had 8 teams on board. This year we have 18. Spoken word is huge in Canada right now. Remember Shane Koyczan at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver? Did you know Ottawa’s own Ian Keteku is the World Slam Champion?

Yes, I can throw facts at you. I’m the festival publicist, and it’s one of the best gigs I’ve had. I get to spend all my time with brilliant poets and eager media personalities who are enthusiastic about these brilliant poets. I get to speak in hyperbole all day long; cheer loudly; fawn obnoxiously. I’m in my element.

But maybe you’d like to hear from people who aren’t me: people who are attending a slam poetry competition for perhaps the first time; people who can offer a new set of eyes, a critical perspective, perhaps even their own poetry! Check out OttawaTonite.com for full coverage of the festival so far, from numerous perspectives. There’s a comments section, so feel free to post your own thoughts.

The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word continues until Saturday. Tonight you can catch shows at the Velvet Room and the Marriott Hotel: both bouts kick off at 7pm and tickets are only $10. Semi-Finals are on Friday, and the Finals are on Saturday. For the full schedule, check out http://www.cfsw.ca

It’s all-you-can-eat “sushi” night all week long… Enjoy!

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