Poets spread out across the city for Edmonton Poetry Festival

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Rayanne Haines used poetry to work through difficult emotions in her latest release, Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun. Poetry helped her to deal with difficult subject matter while being honest about her grief and depression. Family trauma and healing were front and center, spilling out private emotions onto the page.

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“For me, that was the only way to get through, by using poetry to find a way to get the words out of my body,” says Haines. “With poetry I can interrogate things in a different way. It calls me to write in a much more truthful way.”

Rayanne Haines is one of the writers-in-residence for the Metro Edmonton libraries and will be sharing her work at this year's Edmonton Poetry Festival.
Rayanne Haines is one of the writers-in-residence for the Metro Edmonton libraries and will be sharing her work at this year’s Edmonton Poetry Festival. Photo by Steven Stefaniuk /Supplied

Haines is the writer-in-residence for Metro Edmonton libraries, MacEwan writing professor and has published three books of poetry. She’s also one of myriad writers who will be sharing work and thoughts on their craft during the two weeks of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, running April 22 to May 1.

Haines will be joined by Riddle and Uchechukwu Umezurike for an event April 30 at the Strathcona County Library at 2 pm While their work was originally written for the page, Haines says poetry has a strong connection with the stage.

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“When I wrote my collection, I went, ‘Oh, I have to share this,'” says Haines. “It takes vulnerability to be as truthful in front of people. Many of us go up there with shaky palms and voices.”

For the duration of the festival, shaky palms and voices from veteran poets and newcomers alike will grace stages across the city, with at least one show every day.

“We have an overabundance of writers to be included in the festival,” says the festival’s artistic director, Shima Robinson, this being her first year at the helm of the festival, which she took over at a time when COVID put a lot of uncertainty into in-person festivities.

What she and the organizing committee have pulled together is a massive cross-section of the city’s poetry community. New poets, longtime poets, Indigenous poets, poets from the LGBTQ2S+ community; there’s a huge diversity among the participating artists.

Two Lost Launches events will celebrate artists whose work didn’t receive as big of a welcome as it could have during the pandemic.

Edmonton’s current Poet Laureate, Titilope Sonuga, will make a number of appearances including a master class on April 29 at Latitude 53 where she’ll share her thoughts about writing. Governor General’s Literary Award winner Norma Dunning will lead a session of The Near Dead Poets Society, a group of writers over the age of 45 who share their poetry.

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Gavin Bradley, Jason Purcell, Jenna Butler; the list goes on, poets bringing their work to the masses, getting to play witness to part of the literary world being performed live.

“Keeping ourselves accountable to ourselves is basically part of the process of writing poetry. Presentation or reading allows us to be accountable to ourselves and to our community,” says Robinson.

Alice Major is one of the veteran voices in the Edmonton poetry community, with published work going back more than 30 years. She was also Edmonton’s first Poet Laureate in 2005, where she started the Edmonton Poetry Festival.

Her work has evolved throughout her career as a writer, starting with poems about love and loss. She it’s shifted more recently to talk about science and the wider world. Her latest book, Welcome to the Anthropocene, is an examination of human-driven climate change and came out of her reaction to an exhibit about animals changing over time.

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“One of the interesting things I think about poetry is that you are shaping the issue, the trauma you are dealing with,” says Major. “It’s cathartic not just that you express what you are feeling but because you shape it into something that will resonate with other people. You hunt down metaphors, you are looking for a narrative.”

It’s just as much about being concise as it is about being playful. Major will be joined by Marilyn Dumont, a poet and educator who teaches at the University of Alberta, at her event on April 25 at noon in the Stanley Milner Library.

The festival will also play host to a charity effort to help Ukraine. The Edmonton Stroll of Poets Society will be hosting a fundraiser at Yannis Taverna on April 24 where they’ll unveil a Poets for Ukraine anthology.

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Members of the Stroll of Poets and The Parkland Poets contributed works along with submissions through a Facebook group and compiled into a chapbook, with proceeds going to the Second Front Ukrainian Foundation.

Some of the poets from the stroll will also be performing during the festival, with ticket sales supporting the Alberta Council for Ukrainian Arts.

For more information about the festival or to buy tickets, visit edmontonpoetryfestival.com.

yegarts@postmedia.com

PREVIEW

The Edmonton Poetry Festival

where various venues

when April 21 to May 1

tickets Free and ticketed events, details and purchases at edmontonpoetryfestival.com.

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