Mile End Poets' Festival

Catherine Kidd at the Mile End Poets Festival.

The inaugural Mile End Poets’ Festival in Montreal was like a tour through a series of poetic ambiences. From the perfect cosy patisserie café to stripped down gallery performance space to Zendo (poetry seems to find itself beside, or within, sacred spaces often) to rock-and-roll bar – beyond the precincts of the academy, these are the places where poetry lives across the country today.

The festival spoke to poetry in another way, in that it was put together by organizers Ian Ferrier and Kaie Kellough without any sort of budget. It was woven with the inherent goodwill of local organizers, serendipity, and the actual fact that poetry is happening all the time. The festival was a way to shine a light on this incessant artistic activitism, and honour it. While funding and other forms of institutional support are always welcome, poetry can and will happen in the interstices of the urban social space simply because poetry lovers will make it happen.

Three of the events were part of three regular series – Ian Ferrier’s Words and Music at the Casa, Jason Selman’s Intimate Sky, and the Throw Collective’s slam. The genius of the festival organizers was to bring together these events on the same weekend, along with a fundraising event for the biannual Zen Poetry Festival (it's third edition happens in March 10-13 of 2011) and a new performance space for Montreal poets, Café Souffle.

The reading at Café Souffle was the opening event, and it featured some dysfunctions, some miscommunications, but the vibe of the night was good almost despite itself ... (as the substitute host for the first half of the night I can attest to that). There was a surprise guest – Hilary Peach was in town – a new discovery in musician Cecily Dover, and some really fine post-reading conversation around the always-fascinating topics of poetry and poets and performers. The pastries and coffee were wonderful, too.

Intimate Sky is a series that pairs vocalists – singers, poets, rappers, dub poets – with musicians. The event reflected its roots in the Kalmunity Vibe Collective scene, as poetry, jazz, blues and hip hop culture flowed and blended together. In this case, it was female performers (Deanna (miss d-na) Smith, Odessa (Queen) Thornhill, Kim Zombik) accompanied by piano, which resulted in some transcendent moments of singing and / or spoken word. In fact, their performances left host / organizer Jason Selman at a temporary loss for words to express his emotions at the end of the evening. 

The fundraising event at the Enpuku-Ji Zen Center featured some fine musicians (Coral Egan, Courtney Wing), and poets (Mary di Michele, Fortner Anderson) – the space itself lent a certain calm focus to the evening, with some distinctly Zen poetry moments, and yet the Buddhist hosts proved to be the heartiest partiers of the festival, with a rollicking post-reading dance presided over by the jug blues band Ol’ Savannah.

Words and Music had lent its own space to the Throw Collective, and so it took place at Off Interarts (as did Intimate Sky). It featured some of Kaie Kellough’s stellar sound poetry, and brand new work by Catherine Kidd, who’d been mostly absent from the Montreal scene for the past year or so. It also featured Pharmakon MTL, the trance-ambient ensemble featuring Moe Clark and Ian Ferrier.

To close the Mile End Poets’ Festival, the Throw Collective put on a special post-Canadian Festival of Spoken Word show. The electricity of the four Montreal slam champs and their alternate brought out the crowd, who packed Casa del Popolo’s concert space well beyond capacity. Without exception, all of them – Alessandra Naccarato, Xavier, Miss D-NA, Kaytee Lush, and Queen Ka – are young performers to watch.

Hilary Peach and Ian Ferrier at Café Souffle.
Odessa 'Queen' Thornhill at Intimate Sky.
Fortner Anderson at Enpuku-Ji Zen Center.
Catherine Kidd at Off Interarts.
Xavier of the Throw Collective at Casa del Popolo.
Alessandra Naccarato of the Throw Collective at Casa del Popolo.
Queen Ka, Alessandra Naccarato and Miss D-NA of Throw Collective at Casa del Popolo.
Miss D-NA of the Throw Collective at Casa del Popolo.
Throw Collective at the Casa del Popolo.