You’ve thumbed though that volume of Neruda but have never committed to more than a few pages. You have that one poem earmarked – the one about a lemon. Other poems have caught your eye, but none received a folded corner. Other books are scattered about the house. A few on the lower shelf of the nightstand; three on the dining room table; one on the shelf in the hall; two on the coffee table, in front of the television. You’ve wandered through those pages slowly, often forgetting your place and refusing to use bookmarks. It’s enough to own them, you sometimes think. It’s enough to let ambition have its way with your wallet and convince you of your greatness. Often, it’s enough to touch the covers. Some smooth and shiny, some ridged and indented. Most are unread and cherished. Most are over-designed, you think. You’ve been known to say, The cover is the first poem in the book. Whenever you set yourself to read – usually, and to your detriment, allowing too long a time – something taps you on the shoulder and shows you things that you must hold at bay. Tomorrow’s sprint to the office. A slip up from years ago, yet to be fully forgiven. Your spouse’s handwriting on the grocery list, intimately mixed with yours. When reading, all of those things go in the pocket at the back of your notebook. Close but away.
The winners of our June submission call for The Poetry Route have been determined! The theme for this round was “Local Harvest”. We received MILLIONS of entries! If you believe that one, I’d like to invite you to view the banana farm that I have in my back yard. The submission call response was stronger than your resolve at the bakery counter, stronger than a thresher’s low gear, stronger than a mint leaf in a pot of tea, stronger than…
Anyway, we had a blast going through the entries and everybody sent their finest work. We’d like to thank all the poets who really “planted” their “finest crops” on us. Only four were chosen, and the winners can be found here. Congratulations to the four: Stephen T Berg, Kim Mannix, Shirley Serviss, and Ann Sutherland.
With the Edmonton Poetry Festival well behind us and summer starting to stretch its legs, it’s time once again to open submissions for the next round of The Poetry Route, a PoFest/ETS joint that brings E-Town verse from the page to the streets in the form of bus placards. It’s a lovely thing to think of poetry moving about the city on busses. Small spaces saved from the relentless reach of advertising; poems mingling with the workadays, office denizens, steel toes and Carhartts; poems flitting about in the diesel spew. How would your words perform in such demanding environs?
The theme of this submission call is “Local Harvest”. Just what does that mean? It means what you believe it to mean. It may mean that you enjoy spring’s crop of freshly-grilled hot dogs, served with glee from street corners and storefronts throughout the city. It might reflect your carefully-planned trip to the downtown farmer’s market, or your lazy, late-morning stumble to the Strathcona market, where you browse mostly, but always buy a coffee and a bag of popcorn. It may mean the tangible joy you feel on a Saturday morning wherein, after a work week spent in front of a glowing computer screen, you finally get to sink your hands into the earth. Take the joy you plant with your marigolds and put it on the page. Cut your zucchini before it grows beyond the fence boards and make a poem of it. Consider the shamefully large number of food photos you have posted to Instagram. We want poems about lettuce, steak, french fries, corn dogs, organic carrots, your heirloom eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and the tacos you had at Tres Carnales last week. You up for it?
Send us your food poems, fair city, and you may reap the reward of seeing your delicious syllables on our city’s busses. Don’t go half way – this is as serious as a slug infestation in your raised vegetable beds.
Oh, that tremble of the fingers! I know it well. You can control your voice, almost, but the tremor of the page of poetry as you lift it to read aloud is a dead give-away. This is something new, something you are offering to the world, and you are afraid the world will turn it down flat.
Doing a first-ever poetry reading can be like having your central nervous system ripped out. So, to the half-dozen brave souls who put their words out for the very first time at L’Espresso Café yesterday – congratulations. It will never be quite that bad again.
They ranged from 18-year-old Matti to 60-year-old Kelly. They brought rhyming couplets or free verse, love poems or political comment. Some will go on to write and perform at the highest level. (I think of seeing Ahmed Knowmadic give his very first reading at the Edmonton Poetry Festival five years ago or so. This year he was a star at our Laugh Lines event and the assured, witty host of the Slam Finals.) Others will simply go on writing a modest poem every few months, and feel they need to share their words every now and then.
The Café Readings are the traditional wind-up afternoon for the Edmonton Poetry Festival. In some ways, it’s my favourite event. Partly because the pressure of thirty other events is off – no more rushing around with posters and books to sell and venue boxes. Partly because I know I can go home, have a glass of wine and sleep.
But mostly, because of the voices. Twenty people read at L’Espresso yesterday afternoon. There were another forty at the other two venues. They included accomplished poets who have published in literary magazines or books and given many readings. And they included the the newbies, the ones still struggling to dig their way through the enormous clichéd overburden of human emotion to the word-ore of poem.
Over and over through this past week, our event hosts reminded audiences of one of the festival’s core values: to affirm poetry’s diversity and bring together different genres, ages, cultures, levels of experience. We had put together the 2014 program to reflect that huge range – from spoken word hijinks to cerebral lectures, from page to stage and back again. The Café Readings are our final gesture to the diversity within our local community.
“Come on out,” we say to younger and older. “Give it a try. Don’t worry if your hands shake the first time.”
See you next year.
Alice Major was Edmonton’s first Poet Laureate, serving from 2005 – 2007. She is currently the president of The Edmonton Poetry Festival Society.
As the 2014 Edmonton poetry Festival draws to a close, we thought we’d offer some round-up thoughts from some of our organizers and poets.
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“This festival was about reconnecting with visiting poets and hearing voices that were new to me. Throughout the festival, I was reminded of how powerful it can be to hear someone read their own work out loud.”
- Alexis Kienlen
“Morning light flooding City Hall for Praxis – Writing Revolution in Place, a collaboration between U of A students and a group of inner city people. Among all the assured master poets we heard last week, these voices (sometimes halting) were the ones to remind me how vital it is to express, to shape words, to say.”
- Alice Major
“I came away with an even stronger emotional bond to this poetry community and a great love for the diversity of the poetic art form. I came away with a greater respect for the support of this city and everyone in it! Mostly I came away exhausted and elevated.”
- Rayanne Doucet
“I came away with a great appreciation for the diversity of voices that the festival presents. From accomplished masters to slam champions to newcomers trembling at the mic, it’s that diversity that is the binding power of this festival, and what makes it so special.”
- Michael Gravel
Thanks to all who attended and supported the festival in 2014. It means the world to us. Tomorrow, Alice Major will offer some thoughts on the festival’s traditional finale, The Cafe Readings, wherein the community at large celebrates by reading their work in venues around downtown.