Festival City: Edmonton Poetry Festival | By Annie Pumphrey

Start snapping your fingers. This April marks the eighth year of the annual Edmonton Poetry Festival, a week-long celebration of all things poetry. Taking place in numerous Edmonton cafés and theatres, the festival features a wide range of events including performance poetry, poetry-inspired theatre, collaborative poetry, and open-mic events—all aimed at fostering our city’s poetry community while introducing the art form to those who may not be familiar with it.

“The mandate is to make Edmonton a destination for poetry for poets that are around the world… and to give local poets the opportunity to showcase their work [and] to grow as artists by having an organization that helps support that.” explains Rayanne Doucet, freelance writer and executive director of the festival.

Edmonton has a thriving poetry scene. There are numerous poetry collectives, events and monthly café readings in addition to poetry-based initiatives such as the “Poets in the Schools” educational program and the popular “Poetry Route” which features work by local poets on buses and LRTs.

“It’s a really big community, it’s a really supportive community, so even if you’re a new poet or a really experienced, published-many-times-over poet, everybody is given the opportunity to share their voice in this city” remarks Doucet.

The festival offers over thirty events over the span of seven days—many of which are free to attend—and features local poetry groups such as the Breath in Poetry Collective, Words with Friends, and the Olive Reading Series. Other highlights of the festival include Scotland’s national poet Liz Lochhead, beat box/musical performance poet C.R. Avery, and a special appearance of Canada’s poet laureates.

“Anna Marie Sewell—Edmonton’s current laureate—is producing a piece where she’s taking one poem from each of the laureates that talks about their geographical location in Canada and turn it into a theatre piece that actors are going to perform” says Doucet.

For those who may not be familiar with Edmonton’s poetry scene—or poetry in general—the festival is a great opportunity to discover and engage with the huge variety of styles that poetry can encompass. According to Doucet, there is far more to the world of poetry than one might think.

“For a lot of people, their only experience with poetry has been having Shakespeare fed to them—not that there’s anything wrong with Shakespeare—but not everybody gets it, and that’s not really what poetry is like nowadays.”

In addition to numerous featured guest events, the Edmonton Poetry Festival also hosts workshops to help inspire people to write their own poetry as well as numerous open-mic events aimed at showcasing Edmonton’s hidden talents. During these events, anyone can step up and share their work with fellow festival-goers in a supportive performing environment.

“Going to these events will inspire you to find your own voice… My sixteen year old son who has no real interest [in poetry]—he’s a snowboarder—went to an event last year and all of a sudden he’s writing rap, he’s into doing things that you wouldn’t expect a sixteen year old boy to do. It changes your ability to see things…take a look at the calendar, go to the website. There is really something for everybody at this festival.”

The festival runs April 21st-28th in numerous venues throughout Edmonton. Tickets, schedules, and more information can be found at www.EdmontonPoetryFestival.com.

Photo credit to Randall Edwards. 

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