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Shane Rhodes. Photo provided by VERSe Ottawa

VERSe Ottawa celebrates the art of poetry with communal event, Poetry in the Park

By Shireen Agharazi-Dormani on August 26, 2021

With summer (already) coming close to an end, VERSeFest, Ottawa’s annual international poetry festival, wants to celebrate the art of poetry, music, and food by presenting Poetry in the Park. This being their first live event in over 18 months, it will include an entire afternoon of bilingual arts performances along with a delicious lunch for all to enjoy. The day of poetry will be held on Aug. 28 from 1pm to 5:30pm at Strathcona Park in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood. The festival is free for anyone to attend.

When discussing this one-day event, festival director Monty Reid writes, “After a challenging year and a half where virtual gatherings became the new norm, we want to celebrate poetry and each other–to invite the arts community to gather safely in the open air and enjoy good readings, good music, and good people together,” according to a statement. “Poetry has always been a community event.”

The event will start with a communal welcome lunch and feature Canadian poets reading their work. These artists include Frances Boyle, a poet and fiction writer on numerous award lists; Stuart Ross, an eccentric poet of sharp wit; and Ashley Hynd, longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize twice and whose work focuses on the erasure of her history and truth and reconciliation. There’s also Shane Rhodes, known for his political and visual work; and Ren Iwamoto, an inventive Japanese-Canadian poet who read at VERSeFest in 2019. A few surprise guests will be partaking in this event as well.

“The key is we’re always looking,” says communications director Vivian Vavassis via email when explaining how she found the poets for the event. “Every time any one of us hears about a poet doing something exciting or different, we’re inclined to look up their work online or order their book. And we scribble their name down on a napkin or in our phones and share at the roundtable.”

Frances Boyle is one of the poets who will be reading their work at the event. Photo credit: John W. MacDonald

A regular fixture in The Chateau Lafayette lineup, John Carroll will entertain listeners with his gritty folk and blues songs as a musical interval.

Last year’s festival went entirely virtual and allowed organizers to invite poets without having to consider geographical constraints, a change that was “amazing,” says Vavassis. “But we did want to have the opportunity to gather in-person and waiting for summer allows us to do that safely,” she says.

Vavassis also encourages those attending to wear a mask and to stay six feet apart for everyone’s safety. “After such a challenging year and a half, we really want this to be a communal event—a great time in the park chatting with people, listening to fiery poems, enjoying great tunes, and noshing on a picnic lunch,” she says.

VERSe Ottawa organizes various poetry events throughout the year, including VERSeFest and Ottawa’s International Poetry Festival. All events, including the reading on Saturday, August 28, are free and open to the public.