In 2003, poet Sheri-D Wilson created the Spoken Word Society in Calgary. One year later, the society launched the Calgary Spoken Word Festival, with four events featuring poets from across Canada. In 2005, Wilson implemented Canada’s only educational spoken word program, which is offered at The Banff Centre. In 2006, the city had its first local slam team. Over the years, the number of poetry events in the city has grown along with the size of the festival, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, spans most of April and has a roster of international poets alongside a healthy representation from Calgary and across Canada.
Wilson, the festival’s artistic director and producer, says interest has reached the point where local literary groups approach her and ask to have independent events added to the lineup — and she is happy to accommodate them. “I have a policy: open door,” she says. “I think if you want to be part of this, come on.... It’s one of the largest poetry festivals in the world this year.”
The theme for 2013 is X-Dream Thinking, and the lineup includes DEB Talks, workshops, poetry slams, book launches, and even the opportunity to commune with trees (more on that later). For the complete lineup, go to calgaryspokenwordfestival.com. For a short list of some of the highlights, read on.
Wilson describes the DEB Talks as “the female answer to the TED Talks” — the goal is to share information and ideas, but the talks are limited to five minutes and the delivery will be unique. DEB Talks will be held at five events: Gordon Freeman of Edmonton will present Hidden Stonehenge: Ancient Temple in North America Reveals the Key to Ancient Wonders, which is the title of the University of Alberta professor’s book about an ancient rock formation in southern Alberta (April 15, Cosmic Libertine with Sexy French); Michèle Stanners of Calgary, who is responsible for the design and implementation of a new Centre for Creativity and Entrepreneurship at the Alberta College of Art and Design, will present Send in the Clowns: Engaging the Arts for Social Movement and Change (April 16, Fest-O-Off); Orunamamu of Oakland, Calif., a 92-year-old master storyteller who is the subject of two documentaries, will present Life is a Story after 90! (April 17, The Great Black North Anthology Launch); Alan and Jessica Osborne of Calgary, who teach and mentor a small local coven about the traditional ways of British Celtic Magick, will present How Magic has lost its Magic? (April 19, Oracular Spectacular w/ Spanish); and Bob Holman of New York City, who is featured on our cover, will present Endangered Languages (April 20, Powerhouse Beats).
STORIES FROM THE LAND
Two separate events at the festival have a strong connection to nature. The first, A Tribute to this Land (April 14), includes the launch of the The Elder Project booklet of the same name and will have storytelling and drumming with First Nations elders from all Treaty 7 nations. Wilson says the goal is to educate people about this land by sharing the stories of the first people to inhabit it. “I’ve lived here, I was born here, and I don’t know why I don’t know these stories,” she says. The second event, The Witch Hunt... For Trees (April 20), requires an open mind. People will gather at Caffe Beano, board the BassBus (it has music for the ride), then head off into nature on foot, led by the Osbornes of Pellar Arts. Once they’ve reached their destination, they will speak to the trees — or at least listen to the trees — in an effort to experience their strength and power, and harness some of that energy. This is a good fit for the festival’s theme, X-Dream Thinking — and hey, it can’t hurt.
THE GREAT BLACK NORTH
On April 17, a panel discussion titled What is Afri-Can Poetry? will examine the African-Canadian aesthetic, led by Dr. Valerie Mason-John (a.k.a. Queenie) and Kevan Anthony Cameron (a.k.a. Scruffmouth), co-editors of the first national anthology of African-Canadian poetry. This publication is a significant accomplishment worthy of a second event — and there is one. That evening, a celebration showcasing 10 artists will be held to officially launch the book itself — The Great Black North anthology (Frontenac House) includes 89 poets from across Canada and is described as a contemporary remix of the story of black Canada.
Of course, every festival needs some big names. In addition to the slam champions onstage at Shake Rattle and Roll — Poetry that Sings (April 11), and the fight for bragging rights and $500 at the competition Fest-O-Off (April 16), the marquee event is Powerhouse Beats (April 20). This is the event where you’ll find poet and playwright Liz Lochhead, the 2011 national poet of Scotland; John Giorno of New York City, who was influenced by Andy Warhol (and was the subject of his first film, Sleep) and has collaborated with William Burroughs, Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass, among others; and the aforementioned Bob Holman. The lineup is rounded out by punk musician-turned-politician Joe Keithley of Vancouver, and acclaimed poet and now novelist bill bissett of Toronto.