Local poetry: For letter or for verse

If it’s words you adore, Halifax isn’t a bore. Poetry jumps off the page, all you need to do is engage.

When it comes to poetry, Halifax slams. And poetry is cool. Really. Don't think so? Got the structured verse of a long dead white guy rattling your cranium? Been rejected by a now out-of-print literary journal?

Whatever might have scared you off poetry, you're in Halifax now. Halifax is one poetic town. Poetry rings through our written word, at live spoken word venues, in our abundant indie music. It's in our blood.

Ask Ben Gallagher, a new poet to the Hali scene. "Halifax is a good place for poets and writers in general," he says. "The Writers Fed is supportive, and the do-it-yourself attitude here helps create an independent poetic voice."

The "Writers Fed" Gallagher refers to is the Nova Scotia Writers' Federation (1113 Marginal Road, 423-8116). The annual student membership fee is $20. They help poets and authors get respect (and occasionally pay).

"You'll receive WFNS's bi-monthly newsletter with a list of poetry events, workshops, opportunities, competitions, and more," says Shauntay Grant, Halifax's poet laureate and a source of pride for Halifax.

Quickly, her creds: Grant is a journalist, writer and spoken-word artist whose work has been featured on national radio and television. Her blend of music and poetry gives a distinctive rhythm, beat and voice to her stories. She is as comfortable at a poetry slam as she is performing at the Halifax jazz festival. Grant has hosted CBC's National Poetry Face-Off for two years and won two Atlantic Book Awards.

Grant's goal for her term as poet laureate is to bring poetry back to young people.

"Anyone who knows me knows how much I love working with youth around creative writing and spoken word performance," she says. "Youth will be a focus for me---challenging youth to tell their stories, creating mentorship opportunities for young writers...creating a poet laureate legacy project that is reflective of the city's diverse and vibrant poetry community.

"It's the poets, the organizers, the audiences that make our poetry scene so vibrant," she adds. "People are excited about poetry and storytelling: the range of voices, stories, experiences."

The DIY poetry of open mics and zines rarely pays, but it's where the genre is reinvented and reinvigorated, where what's in our blood is heard on the street. Especially at the Anchor Archive Zine Library (5684 Roberts Street, 446-1788). "Poetry zines are one of our biggest categories," says Amanda Stevens, who coordinates the cataloguing.

A quick perusal of the poetry zines at the archive yields poetry on favourite Hali topics like activism, Buddhism, local food, trolls and mermaids, boats and beaches, love (in and out of trailer parks), sex (in and out of leather) and drugs. Nothing on rock and roll.

For the rock-star rush, live spoken word is recommended. There are more venues than Grant can name, but she gives it a go. "Word Iz Bond hosts the SPEAK! series on the third Thursday of each month at Club 1668 (1668 Lower Water Street, 431-8588)," she begins. "A great line-up of local performers and guests from around the country, and home of the Halifax Slam Team." She neglects to mention she was a member of last year's national championship team. "The school year is starting up so hopefully the Broken English series at Saint Mary's University will be at it again," she continues. "The shows are on the last Thursday of the month.

"David Rimmington runs the Left Bank Reading Series at Local Jo Cafe (2959 Oxford Street, 455-6255) on the last Thursday of the month, featuring guest writers and an open mic in a chill atmosphere---the crowd is very supportive."

Grant recommends attending a Storytellers Circle of Halifax event, held the second Thursday of the month ("Poets love Thursdays, I guess," she says), at Local Jo's. "They have created a warm, welcoming environment devoted to the art of storytelling---taking poetry back to its roots."

In the north end, The Company House (2202 Gottingen, 404-3050) in March began hosting Porkpie, a bi-monthly series of writers reading new work. "It's been drawing wonderful crowds and great poetry," says Grant. "The venue is perfect for a poetry vibe!"

Public libraries---where the revolution is researched---hosts an open mic series with poets, singers and musicians. Details are at halifaxpubliclibraries.ca/programs.html.

Halifax's hottest poets can be found at our annual Word on the Street Festival at The Cunard Centre (961 Marginal Road) on Sunday, September 27. You can buy their latest books or listen to live readings. You can even pitch your dusty poetry manuscript to a panel of local publishers. To register for Pitch the Publisher see thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/halifax.

By now your repressed inner poet is ready to "suck the marrow from the bones of life." (Those dead white guys aren't all bad.)

"Sign up for the open mic," Grant recommends. "Once you've done it one time, the next time will be easier."

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