Poetry Weekend (Bradley Parker)

Poetry Weekend: Fredericton’s Low-Key, But-Seriously-Why-Haven’t-You-Heard-About-This Poetry Festival

Despite Gord Downie’s insistence that I not, here I am telling you exactly what the poets are doing.  Frankly, if you aren’t immersed in Fredericton’s poetry scene or don’t happen to be a poet yourself, you most likely haven’t heard about the University of New Brunswick’s Poetry Weekend.

The festival has come to be known as a bacchanalian gathering of established and upcoming literati. Poets come from across Canada, some venturing across the border from the US, for the sole purpose of attending Poetry Weekend. Poets living in Fredericton offer up their spare beds, their couches, hell, whatever space they have sufficient for sleep, to out-of-town visitors.

While the ritual of morning readings can be highly caffeinated, sunlight filters through Memorial Hall’s stained glass windows and illuminates the cathedral-like space that exudes a sense of serenity. In place of hymns, poets croon intimately to an audience more attentive than your average congregation.

There is no priest, but a ‘presiding spirit’ who sets the tone for the entire weekend. This year’s spirit happens to be M. Travis Lane, a Poetry Weekend veteran who was shortlisted for the Governor General Award earlier this year. Lane also has a new book of poetry debuting this Friday, September 30th entitled The Witch of the Inner Wood.

Professor Ross Leckie, Poetry Weekend’s unsuspecting founder, explains that Poetry Weekend started in the fall of 2004 completely by accident with a series of serendipitous events. Poet Barry Dempster was stopping in Fredericton as a part of his tour on a Saturday evening. At the same time, Fredericton’s Goose Lane Editions was publishing two UNB Creative Writing grad students, Sue Sinclair and Charmaine Cadeau, and Wolsak & Wynn was publishing UNB grads Steve McOrmond and Matt Tierney. This coincidence resulted in what we know now as Poetry Weekend.

“We decided to have a launch for all four in Fredericton and the most convenient date was the Saturday,” says Ross, “I thought of it as an extended event with five poets. I was then contacted by Nightwood, who was publishing Breathing Fire 2, an anthology that publishes exciting young poets, to do a launch. Sue and Steve were in the anthology and I realized that other Breathing Fire poets living in Fredericton including Tammy Armstrong, Matt Robinson, and Triny Findlay.”

Word got out to poets across Canada, and soon Leckie was inundated with requests to be added to the event’s roster.

What Leckie had thought to be a one-time event, turned into a UNB Fredericton tradition. “The next year people asked me if there was going to be another poetry festival,” recalls Leckie, “I realized that there were four or five NB poets with books coming out, including myself, and it would be fun to have a small festival with us, the locals, and the grad students. The next thing I knew people were emailing me from all over the place and the rest is history.”

Each poet who participates in Poetry Weekend reads three original poems. There is no hierarchy to the readings, fledgling poets mixed in among long-time legends.

While the reading aspect of the festival is important, the social gatherings are held to the same regard. What tends to be a major draw for all of the poets involved is the opportunity to put names to faces. While the poetry community in Canada is hardly small, events such as Poetry Weekend allow the next generation of poets to interact with more experienced wordsmiths in a non-intimidating environment. It also allows those in attendance to have a few drinks (make that an obscene amount) with one another and to socialize. Despite popular belief, poets are often social creatures.

Leckie states, “My favourite part is the spirit of the festival,” elaborating that, “Everyone is equal. Everyone reads the same number of poems. There are no stars. For two days people put aside rivalries and such and just enjoy poetry. I also like the parties and lunch and dinner gatherings, and all the talk.”

Why should you check Poetry Weekend out? Not only can talk with any of the poets in attendance, but the outings in Fredericton are endless, as are the memorable Poetry Weekend parties.

Want in on the infamous Poetry Weekend after parties? Latch on to the closest poet and we will get you there. UNB’s 13th Annual Poetry Weekend is taking place this Saturday, October 1st and Sunday, October 2nd at Memorial Hall on the UNB Fredericton campus. Readings are scheduled at 11am, 2pm, and 8pm each day.

For more information follow Poetry Weekend here.