By Elizabeth Eaton
EDMONTON – According to poet, spoken word artist, and teacher of poetic writing Brandon Wint, the Edmonton Poetry Festival (EPF) is an uplifting experience for performers and audiences alike. During a lengthy conversation, the EFP board member stunningly described the magic invoked by Edmonton’s poetry community and conveyed the reality that poetry is for everyone.
“In 2018, if you want to create world-class poetic events, it naturally entails raising the public consciousness around how life-changing and life-affirming poetry can be,” he explains.
“It feels like poetry in its living, breathing, contemporary form, is understood to be mostly a niche thing, something tucked away or reserved for a special sort of person… Poetry is for the people. Poetry is so, so sublimely human. However, people have been educated around poetry in such a way as to feel alienated from it.”
EPF’s numerous projects and initiatives emphasize poetry’s universality, including the “Poetry Moves on Transit” project. Three times a year, four short poems are selected to appear on 800 Edmonton Transit Service buses, showing that poetry can materialize and colour one’s world, in what are typically the most ordinary places.
Festivalgoers can expect that and more when attending the festival. For example, the opening evening event “Drone & Words” sees spoken word artists collaborate with experimental musicians to create mind-blowing soundscapes. At “nêhiyawêtân,” four of Canada’s leading indigenous poets gather to share voices and stories alongside students from the Poetry Moves Indigenous Youth Poetry Program and Métis artist Amy Malbeuf. At “French Twist,” host Pierrette Requier (who is Edmonton’s sixth Poet Laureate) invites audiences into a unique bilingual experience of poetry. These are just three of the 30-plus events that are offered during the festival. There is an abundance of imaginative and engaging performances; the festival also offers workshops, master classes, cinema showcases and meet-ups.
“This year’s festival seems really hopeful to me because it feels like the festival is diverse in a genuine way,” shares Wint.
“I think the sensibilities of the board members have grown in that there is a recognition of the deep need to imagine the festival in a way that embraces the multiplicity of poetic perspectives that exists.
That means inviting poets who are able to speak from different subjectivities and political positions in a way that deepens Edmonton’s understanding of what being alive, being present, being salient and poetic means right now. I can say that I am excited about the fact that this year’s festival seems able to welcome poets who represent a lovely diversity of race, age, sexuality and gender expression. Of course, that balance could always be improved and the humanity of each poet could be met with more intellectual and political rigour, always. Generally, though, I am excited about the fact that Edmonton’s creative and public consciousness has reached a point where a festival this diverse seems commonplace.”
It would seem, Edmonton is unique in this regard. The city’s residents have known, for a long time, that Edmonton breathes and delivers a spirit that cannot be found anywhere else. And when it comes to the Edmonton Poetry Festival, this is a most apparent truth.
Originally from Ontario, Brandon arrived on the Edmonton scene less than three years ago. However, having discovered the city with fresh eyes, he can attest to the curious and remarkable ethos embedded in Edmonton’s veins.
“I think I joined the board in 2016, though I don’t remember when. I wanted to join the board because, at the time I was invited to do so, I was so new to Edmonton and it felt like a marvelous opportunity to learn about Edmonton’s arts culture and the way the city views itself. It has been a journey, yes, but one I still feel very, very much at the beginning of,” says Wint.
“What I appreciate about being on the board and what I feel I bring to the table is an outsider’s perspective. I relish, in some ways, the fact that I am not from Edmonton and haven’t grown up with a particularly Albertan way of understanding what is possible. It’s not that I think my Ontario-bred perspectives make me wiser than others, it’s that I have almost no sense of ‘the way things have been’…I find artists and organizers here are very willing to work together. People are quite willing to help you build the dream, so long as you have a dream that you can articulate in a cogent way. I think I am very much a dreamer, and so helping to build and augment poetic dreams in the context of this festival is something that feels mostly natural.”
Wint’s DIY attitude, willingness to embrace risk and collaborative energy has certainly been embraced by Edmonton Poetry Festival culture. As such, he is performing at two events during the festival: “Drone & Words” and “Alchemy: Our Annual Poetry Party.”
It seems that the communal effect of poetry – of language itself – is universally visible. EPF is no different; in fact, this communality stands out in a distinct and meaningful way. Whether you are a seasoned beat poetry veteran or a newbie to the scene, there is room for you. You are welcome at the festival and you’ll feel it.
“The difference between Edmonton and other places can be boiled down to this: if you have a creative dream in Edmonton, people are very likely to gather around it,” concludes Wint. “Friends and strangers are likely to tell you who can help build the dream with you. That sort of support doesn’t exist as readily in other places. It’s a hard thing to describe but having grown up between the suburbs of Toronto and the heart of Ottawa, I can feel the difference in my bones.”
The Edmonton Poetry Festival runs from April 22 to 29 at various venues (Edmonton). Learn more at www.edmontonpoetryfestival.com.Edmonton Poetry Festival, Poet