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Poetic Intentions reading series returns to poetry scene

By Joseph Hutt on April 4, 2016

The Limerick

Coarse, often vulgar
verse, whose comic metre is sure-
-ly compensating.

Tiah Akse. Photo by Cecil.

Tiah Akse. Photo by Cecil.

Innuendo and comic verse such as this filled Poetic Intentions‘ third themed poetry reading at Chez Lucien on March 28. To prepare for the evening, host and founder Tiah Akse—riffing off an episode of The Debaters—encouraged writers to pit haiku and limericks against each other, an interesting challenge considering their more traditional differences. (I think it’s fair enough to say that Masaoka Shiki wasn’t all that interested in what a certain man from Nantucket could do with this appendages.)

One of the newest reading series in Ottawa, Poetic Intentions takes on a fresh and engaging format that avoids the typical conventions of most, which generally have a focus on featured acts.

Through its prompted themed evenings and open mic setup, Poetic Intentions establishes a more intimate and supportive gathering, a “writers’ exercise kind of group,” in Akse’s words. Already I can say that the philosophy behind this series has created a wonderful environment for people who aren’t entirely comfortable with or are new to performing.

Only three shows in the series already has a slew of regular performers and patrons who all seem genuinely interested in what their fellows bring to the table, reminding me almost of Umi Cafe open mics in their hay day. With the amiability I’ve witnessed, you’ll be hard-pressed to maintain an anti-social bubble on the outskirts without soon finding yourself invited to join one of the larger tables.

While there’s still room for the series to grow—there is a whole bar to slowly annex—Akse seems happy with how things have been going thus far. Seven years ago, she had first run Poetic Intentions out of Cafe Nostalgica for a year, then at the Avant-Garde after that, and she is seeing a number of familiar faces and friends seeking out this newest incarnation.

Having spent time in the competitive slam poetry scene, she’s also glad for the change of atmosphere and the freedom that the series has afforded.

“After a year of writing for a competitive environment, I found my writing had changed,” she commented. “If it wasn’t shocking, or funny, or deep, it really didn’t score very well. There are some really talented poets [who] can do anything they want, but that really changed my writing… It became a bit formulaic…”

Even in non-competitive environments, there’s still a pull towards that razzmatazz style of poetry, because it can be hard to gauge the kind of audience you’re reading for, to capture and keep their attention; getting that round of laughter after a series of comical quatrains is a reassuring sign that people are at least listening.

Poetic Intentions appears to do away with this source of performance anxiety. For starters, the performance space (the small upstairs landing at Chez Lucien) is close quarters enough that the audience can’t not focus on the current reader—though some may actually find this to be more intimidating.

A lot of people who say they can’t write, or that they write for themselves, don’t realize that it’s really easy and fun to step outside of your comfort zone to perform something that you might have written, because it just gives you an interesting perspective. ~ Tiah Akse

Even the themes are part of Akse’s plan to create a performance that is enjoyable for both readers and audience members.

“[I thought] it would be really awesome to just have a show that would make sense people would want to come to,” Akse said, explaining her thought process. “[If] we make it thematic, does it let open mic poetry make a little bit more sense to everybody? Because if someone’s doing sound poetry and someone’s doing experimental stuff, and it’s not something that’s as clear cut—because slam poets are really, really clever and concise wordsmiths, they’re really excellent at that—so what if you’re not doing that specifically? This kind of [themed] show opens those areas up for everyone.”

Of course, the constraints of themes can often lead writers into unfamiliar territory, but Akse, as someone who writes for a living as well as for herself, admitted that she relishes these kinds of opportunities and personal challenges.

“It’s a great thing to work on something, even if it stumps you,” she commented. “Writing is something that I do, [and I find] it’s really helpful to get other work done while you’re trying to work on this other thing.

“…It kind of allows your mind to move around in this other way, subconsciously almost, and it can loosen things up so that your work and your writing work becomes easier. And that’s kind of the goal for anyone who likes writing.”

That being said, interested writers should know that the next Poetic Intentions is coming up on April 25, and the theme to furrow your brows over is the Ol’ Switcheroo (video instructions here). If you really aren’t comfortable with reading your own work in front of an audience, this is the theme for you! As well as being the prompt for the poems themselves, the Ol’ Switcheroo is where, before the show begins, everyone throws their poems into a hat and randomly draws from the pile when it’s their turn to perform.

Silliness will abound, I’m quite sure, and it’s also a neat opportunity to see how other poets interpret the verses you cobble together in the days leading up.

Follow Poetic Intentions on Facebook to learn of upcoming events.