The mission of the Verses Festival of Words is to celebrate the transformative power of words – written, spoken or sung; to engage diverse groups in cutting-edge, live performances as both audience and participants; to present influential artists from both the oral and literary traditions, and to encourage the next generation of performers and writers. Verses embraces a wide definition of literature and orature that includes page-based poetry, spoken word, oral storytelling, and singer-songwriters.
Verses takes place annually at venues clustered around East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. This cultural district is the heart of Vancouver’s spoken word community.
Each year, as part of Verses, the best slam poets from across Canada come to Vancouver to compete in the Canadian Individual Slam Championship (CIPS). Sanctioned by SpoCan (the governing body of poetry slam in Canada), CIPS determines the nation’s best individual slam poet. Verses aims to serve this national community by staging CIPS in a way that ensures fairness and raises the profile of the slam movement in Canada.
The Verses Festival of Words is a program of Vancouver Poetry House. A registered non-profit organization with charitable status since 2005.
Originally called the Vancouver International Poetry Festival, the festival was launched in 2011. It included the first-ever official Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championship as sponsored by Spoken Word Canada.
In 2012, the festival went through an extensive rebranding in conjunction with a community consultation project to rename the festival. After receiving over 250 entries, the festival directors narrowed the field to the three best contenders and the new name was chosen by the board of directors of Vancouver Poetry House. In the following months, the festival launched its new logo and a new website. The motto through the whole process was “Same great festival, new great name”.
The 2016 Verses Festival of Words will be the 6th annual festival organized by Vancouver Poetry House.
Jillian Christmas, Artistic Director
Erin Kirsh, Managing Director
Emilee Nimetz, Volunteer Coordinator
Ellie Sawatzky, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator
RC Weslowski, Hullabaloo Events Coordinator
John MacRae, Hullabaloo Outreach Coordinator & CIPS Tournament Director
Zoe Grams, Publicist
Patrick Shannon, Graphic Designer
Matt Loeb, Sponsorship Coordinator
Dana Kagis, Lead Volunteer & Active Listeners Coordinator
Jillian is the founder of Toronto’s acclaimed Peace Pipe Poetry Sessions that ran on Yonge St in 2009–10. An enthusiastic organizer within the Canadian poetry community, Jillian has participated in, developed and executed programs in partnership with Toronto Poetry Project, WordPlay, and The Cultch Mentorship program. She has facilitated spoken word workshops for youth and adults across the country.
Jillian has served on the board of Spoken Word Canada since 2012. Her duties include the development of national policy to improve political dynamics within the spoken word community. She has been active in organizing anti-oppression initiatives at national festivals, including workshops and panels to address issues of cultural diversity and prejudice and how they affect poetry communities.
Jillian is also an accomplished spoken word poet herself having toured Canada extensively – featuring at the Calgary Festival of Spoken Word and Edmonton Poetry Festival – and collaborated with some of the country’s best poets and musicians.
Erin Kirsh has been an active member of the Vancouver spoken word community since 2011 as a performer, a volunteer, a fundraiser, and a youth poetry workshop facilitator. She is the current Executive Director of Vancouver Poetry House. Erin has hosted and executed several events for VPH, most notably the 2012 and 2013 12-hour Slam-A-Thons.
Erin is a multidisciplinary writer and performer. She has toured Canada and the United States as a spoken word artist and has represented Vancouver at several national festivals. Her work has been published in Geist, Arc Poetry Magazine, Eyelands/Strangedays Books and more. Erin graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BFA in Creative Writing.
Emilee Nimetz is a multi-talented creator; a spoken word performance artist, dancer, choreographer, actor, shower-and-stage singer. Emilee has performed at the Mariposa Folk Festival (Orillia, ON), Tongues of Fire (Victoria), Wordspell and Art Bar (Toronto). Emilee was a participant in the Banff Centre’s Spoken Word Program with program director Tanya Evanson in April 2014 and studied Musical Theatre Performance at Sheridan College.
What is Verses?
Canada’s largest alternative literary arts festival, Verses Festival of Words offers up dynamic programming celebrating a broad definition of literary arts, including spoken word poetry, storytelling, page-based poetry, singer-songwriters, improvisers, and more. Come be swept away in a wave of word-bending wonder, where activism and art take centre stage. Experience the transformative power of words, written, spoken, and sung.
2011 marked the debut of the Vancouver International Poetry Festival (VIPF), which took place April 18–23, 2011. The 2011 VIPF staged 32 spoken word individual performances, panels, and workshops, drawing over 1,500 in attendance. It also featured an historic landmark: the first-ever Canadian Individual Poetry Slam championship, launched in partnership with Spoken Word Canada.
In 2012, VIPF featured 21 spoken word individual performances, panels, and workshops were staged, drawing 1,600 in attendance.
In 2013, VPH undertook a comprehensive rebranding process of the festival to reflect more accurately VPH’s embrace of both the oral and literary traditions. After lengthy community consultation that included collecting over 250 suggestions, the Vancouver International Poetry Festival was renamed Verses Festival of Words. The new festival has received a new influx of local funding support, including significant grants from the Vancouver Foundation and the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Project Grants program. The 2013 festival became the largest yet with 36 spoken word individual performances, panels, and workshops, drawing 1,650 attendees.
In 2014, Verses Festival of Words received funding from Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council, BC Gaming, City of Vancouver, and Canadian Heritage’s Canada Arts Presentation Fund. These funders created a foundation to expand the festival from six to eight days with over 80 artists taking part in more than 30 events. Artists included Brendan McLeod, CR Avery, d’bi young, Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon with their show “Gender Failure,” Graham Clark, and Sheri-D Wilson. Community stages Litany, Mashed Poetics, Pan American Slam, and the East Van Poetry Salon, rounded out the expanded schedule. The community conversation events named “Talk the Talk,” were created to provide space for discussion of issues important to the spoken word community. The now annual showcases, Jangle & Shout, Word Circus, and Sounds Like Fire, were established. The festival also added new media sponsors CJSF, CITR, and The Georgia Straight. This larger festival attracted 3,150 attendees, and garnered a great deal of press.
In 2015, Hullabaloo, a celebration of youth spoken word, which had been a separate three day festival, became part of Verses Festival for the first time. Hullabaloo continues to kick off the now 10 day Verses Festival each year with its gathering of BC high school poetry slam team. Youth poets compete against each other, share poetry and ideas, and learn and explore their craft at the workshops offered in Adventures of Poetryland each year. The event that links Hullabaloo winners with the rest of the festival was created: Jangle & Shout: Hullaverses Remixer. Verses welcomed community stages programmed by Thursdays Writing Collective, Mashed Poetics, Chicken Sessions, and an ASL slam. Verses featured artists in 2015 included Tanya Evanson, Ivan Coyote, Denice Frohman, Dominique Christina, Kinnie Starr, and Amber Dawn. The second slam competition series, the three day Canadian Individual Poetry Slam championship, again bookended the festival and continues to this day as a staple of Verses programming.
In 2016, spoken word marquee events expanded to see Hanif Adurraqib, Anis Mojgani, Leah Horlick, Ian Keteku, Mary Pinkoski, Winona Wilde, Kai Cheng Thom, Amber Dawn, Ivan Coyote, Wayde Compton, Chris Gilpin, Billeh Nickerson, Lexi Marie, and Richard Wagamese on Verses stages. The inclusion of a visual art component to the festival continued with the exhibit Cinemagraph. Community stage programming favourites Mashed Poetics and Chicken Sessions were joined by launches of the periodicals Poetry is Dead and Oratorealis. A late night Femcees show got the beats flowing with Horsepowar, Kimmortal, JB the First Lady, and Missy D.
2017 continued the showcases Jangle & Shout: Hullaverses Remixer, Sounds Like Fire, and added a Sunday night showcase with spoken word star, musician, and multi-media artist Saul Williams headlining a show that included local artist-activists Kimmortal and Khari McClelland. Community stages from Mashed Poetics, Chicken Sessions, Oratorealis launch were joined by Geist, a Black Lives Matter showcase. Radical Reimaginings: Visions of a Queer Future offered up a workshop and showcase of work created there, and in community. Sounds Like Fire: Femme4Femme was spoken word theatre dreamed up by Amber Dawn, Kai Cheng Thom, Kama La Mackarel and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha that packed the Cultch Historic Theatre. Sonya Renee Taylor and Denise Jolly of The Body Is Not An Apology kept the fire burning the next night. Attendance soared at this festival with a jump in festival passes fueled by enthusiastic media coverage.
In 2018, including Hullabaloo events and poetry slam bouts, and the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam competition, three spoken word showcases, five community stage events, six workshops, and the Talk the Talk events, the festival now has 42 events on offer. Buffy Sainte-Marie will honour the festival with a spoken word set in the Sunday night showcase which includes local artists an̓usáyum̓, mitcholos touchie, and Ronnie Dean Harris. Other showcases during Verses 2018 will see Janet Rogers, Joshua Whitehead, Edzi’u, Alessandra Naccarato, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and burlesque troupe Virago Nation on stage. Join us!