Submitted By Jen Burak
The Words Aloud Poetry Festival was back up and running, stronger than ever, after a three-year pandemic hiatus. Started back in 2004 in Durham, the festival has now shifted its prime location to Owen Sound and included Meaford in the mix. The weekend of October 20-22 saw a lot of action and Meaford provided the kick-off location.
“Words Aloud is something unique. It is one of Canada’s few dedicated poetry festivals, and it is the only festival in a more rural area, far from major centres. It gives audiences a chance to experience major poets they would never normally get to see, and exposes these authors to the beauty of our region. Even better, it brings these poets into schools, thus inculcating a love of poetry in younger generations,” explained the festival’s Artist Director, Richard-Yves Sitoski.
To that end, students at Grey Highlands Secondary Secondary School and Georgian Bay Community School had the rare opportunity on Friday, October 20, of participating in workshops led by three professional poets: Stuart Ross, Janice Jo Lee, and Brandon Wint. Brandon came all the way from Vancouver to share his wonderful poetry at the festival, giving students the rare chance to meet an artist from another part of Canada.
Drama teacher Brittany Knight from Grey Highlands couldn’t say enough about the impact of Stuart Ross’s workshop on her students, and Amy Teed-Acres, an English teacher at GBCS called the event inspiring.
“The Words Aloud Poetry Festival was instrumental in bringing poetry and words to life for my students. Our guest poets inspired our students to engage with the power of language and to create their own spoken word poetry. We were inspired!” said Teed-Acres.
Student workshops on Friday, October 20 during the day were followed by the opening night gala on the main street at the Craig Gallery. Bridget Light Craig and Jonathan Craig donated their space that was magically transformed into a performance venue that evening.
Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney was invited to warm up the crowd by reading a poem and she was a natural. Local legend Bob Menzies did a short set to warm up the audience. The headliner, the irrepressible Janice Jo Lee, performed to a sold out crowd who hung on her every word. The audience was entirely engaged; the poet entertained, made folks laugh but also challenged the audience to think and consider other points of view, one of the purposes of a good piece of art.
One fabulous feature of the opening gala was an open mic, where folks in the audience were invited to step up and share a few verses. It was a special component of a great night and included amateur poets, first timers at an open mic, and more seasoned published writers.
Congratulations to all of the folks who worked tirelessly for months to create a highly successful festival. Words Aloud 2023 celebrated the beauty of the spoken word in all its splendor and invited loads of people along for the rhythmical ride.