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Crowd-funding gives Ottawa poetry festival a boost

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Ottawa Citizen  |  March 11, 2013

versefest poetry festival - Crowd-funding gives Ottawa poetry festival a boost

What: 3rd annual Versefest Poetry Festival

When & Where: Knox Presbyterian Church (120 Lisgar) and the Mercury Lounge (56 ByWard Market Sq.) March 12 to 17.


Dave O’Meara is heartened.

The Ottawa poet and artistic director for Versefest, the annual poetry festival in Ottawa, sits back in his chair and explains why the festival’s recent success with crowd-funding means more than just money.

O’Meara was skeptical a few months ago when the festival put out a request on Indiegogo, one of numerous websites through which artists or others can ask the public for donations to help finance a project. Many artists are using the sites to raise funds to record CDs or finance tours or support festivals, which is why O’Meara was concerned about donor fatigue. He needn’t have worried.

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Matthew Sweeney will be part of Versefest’s Irish showcase in Ottawa. (handout photo)

Supporters exceeded the $5,000 target sought by the three-year-old poetry festival, and to O’Meara that means more than just financial support.

“It says something about people’s interest in poetry,” he says, during a recent lunch at Town restaurant on Elgin. “That’s people saying, ‘let’s get behind this.’ On top of helping us financially, it’s also helping us in our souls, that people really want this festival to happen.”

The support shows that many people know the festival isn’t a bunch of poets “sitting around with baguettes and berets watching their fingernails grow,” says O’Meara, who during our lunch is not wearing a beret nor eating a baguette, but does have respectably trimmed nails. “It’s exciting to know that people want this to happen.”

The campaign was boosted by heavyweight support from globally renowned poets. Both the Booker Prize-winning Canadian Michael Ondaatje and the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Philip Levine were among those who agreed to handwrite poems  on fancy paper, which were then framed and given to top donors. It’s a reflection of the little festival’s stretch into international poetry circles.

“Our plan was always to be thirds – a third local, a third national and third international,” O’Meara says. This year’s festival, which runs Tuesday to Sunday, March 12 to 17, will bring in poets from around the world. On Friday there’s an Irish showcase with Matthew Sweeney and Rita Ann Higgins, cosponsored by the organization Cultures Ireland. On Sunday there’s a show with Dutch poets Hélène Gelèns and Erik Lindner.

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