Verses Festival Of Words unites the power of poetry, song, and prose

Sunday 24th, April 2016 / 14:08
By Prachi Kamble
Hanif Willis Abdurraqib. Photo: Jackson Hall

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.
Photo: Jackson Hall

VANCOUVER — This month, the rousing power of words will take over East Vancouver by way of alternative literary festival, Verses Festival of Words. Slam poetry has a rich history in Vancouver — it has been championed by the Vancouver Poetry Slam for two decades — and Verses celebrates the city’s oral and literary traditions with a series of exciting events that draw poets from all over the continent.

The festival is now in its sixth year. Artistic director Jillian Christmas, a slam poet herself, traversed the country from her East Coast home in 2011 to take part in the Vancouver International Poetry Slam, only to never leave again. Her vision for Verses is to instil in the next generation the love and acceptance that she herself found in Vancouver’s poetry scene. “I want to take all that we’re experiencing out there in the world as artists, people of colour, and queer people,” says Christmas, “and create something positive and beautiful that we can take back into our lives and communities, and feed the creative process even more.”

Verses has a range of offerings this year, from evenings of spoken word and workshops, to music and poetry showdowns. There Be Monsters at The York theatre features local poets Ivan Coyote and Amber Dawn, as well as Kai Cheng Thom from Toronto. “We have Richard Wagamese, many times published First Nations writer. He’ll be doing a masterclass and performing in Interrobang! alongside Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib and Leah Horlick,” Christmas reveals. There is also a conversation group called Talk the Talk where poets will talk about community building and mental health as they relate to the arts and, as Christmas continues, “We Believe in You is designed to support survivors of sexual assault who have taken their trauma and transformed it into cathartic art.”

There are many music-related evenings in store, including Chicken Sessions, which showcases a performance from musical troupe R.A.P.S. (Isaac Bond, Dana I.D. Matthews, Kevin Fitzgerald, and 2015 Canadian International Poetry Slam Champion Prufrock Shadowrunner). Then, Femcees gives feminist hip-hop a moment to shine. “The artists you’ll see, from Missy D to Kimmortal to Horsepowar to JB the First Lady — they know themselves,” Christmas says. “They know their politics. Their music will move you physically and emotionally.”

At Verses, inspiration is something that will surely find festival-goers in many incarnations.

Verses Festival of Words runs at various locations throughout East Vancouver from April 21 to May 1.

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