Saturday, January 29, 2011

VERSefest: Call for Poetry Submissions

I'm passing this along from rob mclennan's blog:  

Poetry for Human Rights
at VERSeFest 2011


Poetry for Human Rights will be a showcase incorporating stage and/or page poetry that engages topics of human rights: women's rights, migration rights, democracy and self-determination, social justice, indigenous rights, and/or other topics related to oppression and resistance.

It takes place March 12, 2011 at 3pm, as a part of VERSeFest 2011.


VERSeFest is Ottawa’s new poetry festival, scheduled to take place from Tuesday, March 8 through March 13, 2011.  The festival is being staged by a collective of 14 Ottawa poetry groups that is known as VERSe Ottawa.  The total attendance at these groups’ events varies seasonally between about 750 and 1,000 people per month.  Audiences range in age from school and university students through to the retired. 

The poetic arts in Ottawa and, indeed, the country are rising in popularity and are becoming increasingly mainstream. VERSsFest is a collaborative project to leverage all the energy and capacity of these groups to build a critical mass for the poetry community as a whole, to share audiences, and to deliver a festival on a new scale. Ottawa deserves an annual festival of poetry, and VERSeFest will grow into an annual international poetry festival.


All poets, whether performance-based, page-based, or somewhere in between, are welcome to apply. The showcase is not limited to poets from the Ottawa region, but VERSeFest will not be able to cover any travel.


Please submit a brief statement (500 words maximum) explaining your work and its human rights resonance, along with at least three pieces of sample material.

We can evaluate printed poetry (Word, OpenOffice, or rtf files), performance video (in .mpg or youtube URLs), or audio (in .mp3 or CD audio) to by February 18, 2011.

While electronic submission is much preferred, hard-copy submissions (including printed paper, CDs, DVDs) may be mailed to: PFHR VERSeFest submissions, 243 Booth Street, Ottawa, K1R 7J5.

Deadline is February 18, 2011.

A selection committee will get to work and select three artists for the showcase. Results should be announced by February 26.


One poet will be selected to give a full reading/performance (of 30-35 minutes), and two others will each give a "half" reading/performance (less than 20 minutes). Artists will be compensated at Canada Council rates for readings.

Sorry, we will not be able to cover any travel costs.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Riddle me this:

Has anyone else noticed this illuminated sign over the Sussex/Rideau corner of the Rideau Mall? My parents and I spotted it while running from dinner to the NAC and Dad stopped long enough in the middle of the intersection (the little orange numbers counting down all the while) to snap this shot on his BlackBerry. I like the picture, actually. We're still confused and slightly charmed by the sign. Anyone know what it is? Will knowing what it is remove all the fun and mystery?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Surprised again by the Play Date

For the first time in what feels like months, I made it to the Creative Writing Play Date tonight! I think the cold had probably scared a lot of people into staying home, but frankly, after a couple of days below -30, something more in the -15 range felt practically balmy. Nevertheless, there were only a few of us braving the winter chill at Mother Tongue Books: four, in fact: Sean, the moderator, and three others including me.

I think that over the Christmas holidays, when I was inspired and creatively kicked in the pants by the poetry of my niece Rachael Wyatt (I got to read her portfolio while I was home, and it really made me want to write, which is one of the things good writing should do), and also over the last few months when I've been focusing so much on developing Chasing Boudicca that it felt like stealing energy from the show to work on new things, I just hadn't been doing that much creative writing. I think I walked back into the Play Date ready to surprise myself. Or at least ready to loosen up and let whatever came out, come out.

Which it did. Tonight's exercise involved randomly drawing an archetype, one of either "Poet," "Artist," or "Scribe," and then reaching into Sean's Crown Royal bag of plastic animals and pulling out an animal. You were then supposed to write a story where a person, who fit the archetype, was confronted with a countless number of the animal. In the story you were to explore the tone and mood suggested by the animal, and work out what the relationship was between the character (and his/her archetype) and the animals.

I got "poet" and a pink plastic pig.

This launched me off into a 45-minute visceral, visual and tactile dream-dive into the sheer physicality of pigs, their earthiness and bodily presence. I won't say it was good, but it was certainly weird, and unexpected and satisfying to write. Words I hadn't been expecting to use came burbling up, and I felt a whole lot less resistance than usual. Often my rational mind balks at just letting go and seeing what comes out. This time, as soon as I decided this was about dreams, I managed to release. Or maybe it was just that I'm ready to write some new stuff, and do some new things, and check out some other creative roads, now that Chasing Boudicca's a little more behind me. 

I like some of what I wrote, and will have to play with it more. A lot more, really. What I like about it has more to do with feelings and images than actual words. Once again, not something I would ever have chosen to write about, for which I have to thank Sean. The Play Date is really good for me. I've missed it.

The Creative Writing Play Date, by the way, meets every Tuesday from 8:00-10:00 at Mother Tongue Books. In the first hour you get a prompt and write about it: in the second hour you share what you've written and get feedback. It's on a drop-in basis, and newcomers are always welcome.

Chasing Boudicca, reviewed!

Pretty cool - how often does storytelling get reviewed? Here's Nichole McGill's review of the show in Ottawa Tonite.

More plans are underway for the show: but next up, we're planning for Fireborn 2011, in March...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wicked typography animation

My dad just sent me a link to this poem, particularly because of the animation of the typography. I've seen this visual language more and more lately: think of those truck commercials, and I know I've seen another commercial that stole the same dropping, spinning, coincident with the voice-over style. But this one does it really well. And the typography geek in me smiles at it.

Incidentally, and having little to do with the above video except for the visualization of the spoken word (and the speaking of the visual word) are you going to Messagio Galore tonight at the OAG? It's going to be a mind bender!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Back down to earth?

Chasing Boudicca, on Thursday night, was a fantastic experience. After months of living with the warrior queen and working with Marie and Ruthanne, after the last couple of weeks in which I saw the others practically every other day for rehearsals and plans (we probably should have just moved in with each other for a couple of weeks), after a couple of sleepless nights on my part and a lot of racing pulses, we walked on stage at the NAC and started to share our Warrior Queen with a packed, and hushed, audience.

It was an incredible experience. Somehow the presence of the audience out there, who had never heard the poems or stories before, was galvanizing: I felt my own words coming alive in a way they hadn't before. And as we moved through the story, I slowly began to realize: we know this piece. We're living it. And ... have I seriously not dropped, or lost, or stumbled on, a single line?

Ruthanne and Marie were as good as I've ever seen them: at points I don't think the audience was breathing, and at points I know some were crying (that's good, we were going for that.) And Nathan Bishop was better than I could have expected, punctuating and propelling and participating with his bodhran, and the whistle that he'd brought along unbidden, and which he suggested we use at three points in the story where it turned out to be heartbreakingly perfect. At the intermission we stopped and looked at each other and said, "this is ... this is amazing!" while feeling a little as though we didn't want to jinx it.

I almost cried - but didn't quite - during the last poem: and when we got off stage and over to the side I did cry a bit, just overwhelmed by the high pitch of the emotions we'd been riding for the last few hours, and particularly the last two. It was a combination of relief and release and catharsis and happiness. We all hugged each other, and I tried not to collapse into tears entirely, because there were so many more people to hug and talk to. It was a really powerful experience for us, and I gather from people in the crowd that it was for them too.

There will be more pictures - there were a lot taken - but this is the one I've got at the moment, from Dad's Blackberry not long after the show. (My parents came up from NB for the show, which meant a hell of a lot to me: the show wouldn't exist were they not the wonderful people they are, and I'm happy and proud that they could be here!)

Marie's thoughts on the show, from her blog, are here. 

And then late last night I got sent a link to our Christmas present from Marie's Roomy! Kymeras fan art! It's so awesome I keep making 'squee' noises.

So I keep claiming I'm going back to "regular life" - although I sort of know that when you've got friends and co-creators as wonderful and strange as I do there's no such thing as "regular life." One project is finished, there are more ahead. I've got writing to do, and the Kymeras have a Fireborn show to put together for March. We want to tour Boudicca, and there have been rumours of theatre festivals and academic conferences that we just might want to bring it to: not to mention folks in Montreal and Toronto that want to see it. "Regular life"? Hah!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's tomorrow!

So a project that has technically been more than 20 years in the making is coming to a major point in its development tomorrow!

Years and years ago, when I was living in England with my family, I discovered the first century warrior queen Boudicca, and I've been interested in her ever since. Several years ago my mom reminded me of the time we spent traveling around the countryside looking for the towns she destroyed and the battlefield where her story ended, when she sent me a copy of Manda Scott's Dreaming the Bull, which features Boudicca, and said it reminded her of the times we spent "chasing Boudicca."

That became the title of a poem, which then became more poems, which were then encouraged and nudged and massaged by my friend Sean Zio until there was a collection of about a dozen of them. I read the cycle for the first time as a unit at the Voices of Venus series last February - where better to inaugurate a series of poems about a warrior queen than a women's open mike? - where Caitlyn Paxson, the artistic director of the Ottawa Storytellers, heard them, and thought they'd make an interesting storytelling show... if I could only recite them rather than read them. Not long after that I was invited, along with fellow Kymeras Ruthanne and Marie, to put together a full-length show for the 4th Stage series.

... And that show is happening tomorrow! 

It's been a long and interesting project, the last few months: I've been memorizing my work, which has been a massively educational experience for me, and Ruthanne and Marie and I have taken whole weekends to get together and dig into the history and archaeology to create the stories that they will be telling, into which I drop my odd little poems about being thirteen, about discovering the story, about not knowing what is and is not true, about making up your own stories around the bare bones of history and archaeology, and about what your version of Boudicca's story says about you.

I've been watching the storytellers work and learning about creating oral stories, I've been rehearsing with them and dissolving into giggles and videotaping bloopers and being moved even in the middle of the rough drafts. I've discovered that certain parts of the story still make my heart race as they tell it, even though I know what's going to happen and I've heard it many times before.

Tonight we're going on Click Here on CHUO (89.1 fm) to talk with Mitchell Caplan about the show, and tomorrow morning Marie and I will be on CBC Ottawa Morning around 8... and then we're meeting up with our musician, Nathan Bishop, an absolutely fantastic bodhran player, to run through the drum cues. Then it's mike check, butterfly taming, and we're off to the first century!

I can't wait.

Monday, January 17, 2011


So there's now a Facebook page for VERSeFest Ottawa! This is a new project that looks like it's going to be very cool - a coalition of reading series, slams and spoken word series which will be running a poetry festival in March.

Organizations involved include Tree Reading Series, Capital Slam, The Muses Reading Series, Plan 99, Dusty Owl Reading Series, Factory Reading Series, AB Series, ARC, Sasquatch Reading Series, Urban Legends, blUe MOndays, In/Words, Oneness Poetry Collective & Voices of Venus - the sheer diversity of the groups involved means I'm looking forward to what they can pull together. From what I've heard, each group will be curating an event, and there may be other events going on too - things are still being developed.

March 8-13 at Arts Court. Keep an eye out!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Story shaping

One of the really interesting things about the work that Ruthanne Edward and Marie Bilodeau and I have been doing on our upcoming show (The Warrior Queen: Chasing Boudicca - next Thursday at the NAC Fourth Stage as part of the Ottawa Storytellers Fourth Stage Series, be there or be square) is what I've been learning about story shape. Or not so much what I've been learning about it, as what I already knew and am now having vividly illustrated.

The show will be one long story, essentially, with the three of us taking different voices and approaches. I step in from time to time as the poet, reciting poems from my series, Chasing Boudicca, which I've been (off and on) adding to for the last few years. I'm a bit of an outside voice, speaking, mostly, from the point of view of myself as a 13-year-old living in England and discovering Boudicca's story. Marie and Ruthanne take the history of the Boudiccan Rebellion between them: Marie more or less covering the story of Boudicca the mother, and Ruthanne covering the warrior aspect. More or less.

We've been working on the show for a long time now - in November we took a couple of weekends and vanished to a cottage out in Westport to brainstorm and talk through what we wanted to do. I came into this with the most previous research, since I've been a Boudicca fan since I was thirteen, and I also came into it as the non-oral-storyteller of the group. I learned quick. All the stuff that really fascinates me about the different purposes Boudicca's story serves and how many times she's been reinvented and rediscovered and made to mean different things - I learned that all of it was going to have to inform the story, the way we were telling it, but not overpower it. We couldn't have multiple versions of her story. We couldn't talk about the archaeological realities - not directly. But we could take the research we'd done, the new discoveries that had been made, and put each cool fact into the story in one line of detail. The temple at Camulodunum wasn't finished when the city was sacked? Okay, we can use that to have the roof unfinished. But not actually say outright that we know for a fact the temple was incomplete.

I mean, it is really interesting what happened to Boudicca's story: written down by her enemies, preserved by chance, rediscovered in the Middle Ages, re-rediscovered by the Victorians, then resurrected again by historical fiction writers aplenty in our time, and every time made to mean something slightly different. There's just so much that can be read in to her story - or to the bits of it that we've kept over the intervening two thousand years. Or into why some bits of her story are accepted as canon now over others.

But. The point is. None of that makes a good story in itself. It's a history lesson or a semiotics lecture or a women's studies course. But it's not a good story. So what I have been learning from Ruthanne and Marie is how to take all of our research, and boil it down into a story. And not just that, into a story that will take only about an hour and a half to tell, and which must come out one syllable at a time, and be received one syllable at a time. 

Between watching Ruthanne pack our hours' worth of discussion into a thirty-second snatch of dialogue (go to the show and listen to how she works what you need to know about the Rebellion of AD 47, led by Caractacus, into three lines of a mealtime conversation between Boudicca and her husband) and seeing how Marie defines a character using one action or one line, I've been awed. They make it look so easy. Me, I'm constantly being sidetracked by more little details. They manage to know which ones have to be there.

One of the things about a story you're telling aloud is that the audience can't flip back and reread a part if they didn't follow it, and a lot of the work we've been doing is to make sure that as the story goes, the things the audience needs to know are clear. When we do foreshadowing, it's got to be pointed enough that it sticks with the audience until that element comes back around (we do some recurring notes with swords, with Boudicca's resolve not to be captured, and with the different destinies of the two daughters.) Without, of course, being heavy-handed. Where information can be delivered as part of the action, it needs to be: just giving a list of facts, or even a list of events, will be flat. (We had a fascinating moment when the two storytellers first started telling their full stories, and we discovered that some parts had come out as simple lists of facts: the three of us brainstormed actions and dialogue that would convey the facts and within 20 minutes the story was transformed, and far more exciting.)

There was also the fact, which I realized a couple of nights ago, that oral storytelling has a series of expectations and understandings which make it possible - in fact, sometimes necessary - to introduce conventions. Things that come close to what, in print, would be cliche. But sometimes you need to borrow from the images and understandings that the audience can be expected to bring. It's like when you start a story with "there was a time, and it was not my time, and it was not your time, but it was a time, when..." Or when you know you can rely on the audience to understand that the third son is going to be the honest, brave and clever one.

On top of that, I'm relying on the audience to keep trying to make the connections between my poems, which are more or less loosely tied to the narrative, and the parts that Ruthanne and Marie are telling. My poems, I think, cast a bit of an extra shade on the story. There's nothing explicit about the relationship between my adolescent temper and the fury of Boudicca, but I'm trusting the audience to see the resonances and make their own connections for a lot of the poems.

So yeah. So much depends on how you deliver the story. The constraints of a live telling, in front of an audience, are different in some ways from the constraints on a story in print: some of them are the same, but some of them are dependent on the listener, their attention, their interest, how much information they can or will want to process at once. I know a lot of this from workshops on fiction writing; "show, don't tell," "if you have to use an adverb you're not making your characters clear enough," "give personality traits through actions and speech, not directly," "go through and take out all the bits that aren't doing anything for the story."

But something about doing it for a live performance, and something about doing it collaboratively with two other performers, makes it so much clearer. It's something I think would be worth working into a writing workshop: the collaboration, the immediacy, and the constraint of it has certainly been eye-opening for me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My voice on CBC? Coooooool!

Just got the link for the piece freelance journalist Rob Thomas did on my first foray into storytelling, as a competitor in the Story Slam at the Ottawa Storytellers Festival. Here's the link: click the link under the CBC logo.

Like the idea of story slam? There's a regular monthly slam in Ottawa at Mercury Underground. Fourth Sunday of the month. It's a hell of a lot of fun. Ask me about them if you're interested!