‘This is the breath of the last word spoken’: VERSeFest & poetry for the end of the world

Photo credit: Anthony Citrano, via Flickr

Christine Northan is a local poetry enthusiast and volunteer. When she’s not studying to be a massage therapist, she enjoys all things creative that Ottawa has to offer. And long walks on the beach. Can’t forget that.

There’s been a whole lotta talk about 2012 being the end of the world as we know it (oh, you better believe REM was brought up more than once!) Tucked inside Arts Court  (2 Daly ave. ) on  a chilled Saturday evening late last month, VERSeFest celebrated the end of the Mayan calendar, a fundraiser inviting poets to explore such thoughts via apocalyptic poetry. And it was a great teaser of things to come when VERSeFest kicks off at the end of THIS month, so let me share the experience with you.

The all-women’s slam was one of the fundraisers taking place in the lead-up to VERSefest, which starts Feb. 28 (Photo credit: Pesbo, via Flickr)

So began the “poetry for the end of the world contest” … Now whittled down to six finalists, tonight they present their pieces — we the audience have a vote — and the winning poem will be sent off into the ether via weather balloon!  How did VERSeFest even get their hands on a weather balloon? I suspect it was Rod Pederson, VERSeFest Director and gracious host of the evening, which began in the studio.

I was greeted by Ottawa’s warm and eclectic poetry scene.  The studio is painted black, and fuschia lighting set the mood.  A stage was set, the fresh VERSeFest logo on display, t-shirts being sold, and I grinned at this poetry festival’s maturation in just one year.

St. Ambroise stocked the bar as well as gourmet sandwiches from Pressed, a new Café in Centretown (750 Gladstone Ave.) The room filled as local folky acoustic trio Call me Katie started things off at 7:00 pm — I dare you to not tap your feet!  After the tunes we jaunted on over to the theatre for Open Mike, which is always so inspiring because you never know who is going to share, or what they’ll share – a safe haven of self-expression.

After a wee break, it was time for the six finalists to present their pieces. Lines that struck a chord:

1- Amanda Earl: “I am afraid, so very afraid of the dark…”

2- Ian Ferrier:  “this is the breath of the last word spoken”

3- Terry Ann Carter:  “for us there is only light…”

4- Sheila Forsythe:  “never ending playlists – heal the world, doom take a backseat…”

5- Ali Fatolahi: “you I and ours…”

6- Carol A. Stephen:  “the walking off place in the end time…”

Ian Ferrier won the ‘End of the World’ poetry contest (Photo credit: Pesbo, via Flickr)

Voting time! REM’s “End of the World” hit, accompanied by a lyrical slideshow as we contemplated our vote – Congratulations to audience fave Ian Ferrier for his piece “Letters from the Ice Age.”

To everyone’s surprise and delight it was decided that all six poems would share the tube attached to the weather balloon!

After featured readers David O’Meara, Brigitte DePape, Rhonda Douglas and Monty Reid read their work, at 10 p.m., we braved the frigid air and gathered in the parking lot, counted down and launched that sucker! All necks remained extended as the poems bee-lined for the oblivion swirling all the way.  We stared and stared, until the balloon was barely distinguishable from the stars.  They say it can reach up to 100,000 feet before bursting… I wonder where the poems are right now…?  We hurried inside for a second round of open mike, followed by Montreal indie band Puggy Hammer, who closed the night by rocking our worlds, but not before a poetry-karaoke-kazoo presentation.

What keeps me coming back to the poetry scene is the people, how one braves the stage, expressing their authentic self. The words and the silence between and we’re present.  Community. Oneness. All in all a fantastic teaser of what to expect at this year’s VERSeFest –  Feb.28-March 4. 

Thanks, Christine! Feels like we were there! VERSeFest will feature more than 30 poets for here and around the world starting on Feb. 28, and you can buy tickets online, at The Manx, at Collected Works, or at the door.