This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s poetry scene—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Ellen Chang-Richardson on the future of poets, or read posts from Jamaal Jackson Rogers on spoken word, and rob mclennan on the future of small press publishing,
Born in Toronto, raised in Sao Paulo & Shanghai and now based in Ottawa, Ellen Chang-Richardson is a poet, writer and editor of Taiwanese and Cambodian-Chinese descent. Winner of the 2020 Power of the Poets Ekphrastic Poetry Competition and the 2019 Vallum Award for Poetry, her writing has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Room and long con magazine, among others. She is the co-founder of Ottawa-based Riverbed Reading Series, and a member of the poetry collective VII. Visit her website or connect on Twitter.
Apt613: What is the current landscape of poetry in Ottawa?
Ellen Chang-Richardson: Unlike other cities in Canada, Ottawa is that quiet, understated city that is actually a hub of literary activity. Writers know that in order to thrive, they have to connect with those that lift them up, and luckily Ottawa is full of that: communities that are as supportive as they are creatively stimulating.
We are the location of incredible indie-presses (AngelHousePress, above/ground press, battle axe press, Coven Editions); reading series (InOurTongues, Tree, Riverbed); literary publications (periodicities, Bywords.ca, Arc Poetry Magazine, Canthius); writer-safe spaces (The Manx Pub, Black Squirrel Books, Little Birds Poetry, Happy Goat Coffee Co., Planet Coffee, LIBRARIES) and literary festivals including one of the only poetry-specific festivals in Canada (Ottawa International Writers Festival, VERSEFest). It is a city with strong literary programs (Carleton University, University of Ottawa); diverse forms of poetry (the slam scene! the visual poetry scene! the sound-poetry scene!) and a place where emerging writers can genuinely find their start.
Furthermore, the city has many funding bodies that aim to support community-oriented programs well as literary creation projects (the City of Ottawa’s Cultural Funding Program, Youth in Culture Pilot Program, Arts Network Ottawa, Bourses Tontines, among others).
Ottawa is a small city and as such, almost forces creators of all artistic walks to genuinely interact with one another. It’s a good thing though, trust me. Music, art, dance, theatre, performance and literature weave in and out of each other and chances are, you will make friends with creatives (and find inspiration) across all these spectra.
Here, if you put yourself out there in a genuine way, you will succeed.
Where is poetry going in Ottawa in 2021? Does it feel like the community is growing?
In the face of COVID-19, collaboration is incredibly important. There is raw talent coming out of this city and other cities are realizing it. You have writers collaborating across country, as well as a stronger desire for diversity within our own city. English Poet Laureate Deanna Young’s recent project #PoemsforOttawa is a beautiful example of that local desire for light through poetry.
A strange but wonderful thing about the COVID-19 pandemic is that going online has opened up the world to Ottawa’s literary scene. There are higher numbers of viewers streaming from across Canada, the USA and abroad (as far flung as New Zealand!); and you see more celebration of Ottawa-based writers and Ottawa-based literary groups, like Canthius winning the League of Canadian Poets’ Leon E. & Ann M. Pavlick Poetry Prize this year.
Where in your wildest dreams could Ottawa’s poetry community go in your lifetime?
In my wildest dreams? Ottawa would be a city that is culturally thriving, *and* affordable to live in. A strong cultural scene usually comes hand-in-hand with gentrification which ironically pushes out the creators. Is it too hard to ask that Ottawa remain a place that is both culturally strong and accessible? Can that be possible? I can continue to hope.
What is the best innovation to take place in poetry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
As I’m sure others have mentioned in their segments, CERB and COVID-related relief grants have been absolutely integral to supporting creative works during this past year. We’ve seen a swell of creative projects that in turn buoy the soul as we collectively struggle through this pandemic. It’s not too far from universal basic income (UBI). Can we get there?
Who is the future of poetry in Ottawa?
Anyone with the courage to write and perform it.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.