The poetry community in Edmonton is warm, welcoming and teeming with talent. There are many great readings, workshops and events for poets all year round, but if you’re a poetry lover, the arrival of April, and the Edmonton Poetry Festival, is the most wonderful time of year. The fest is known for bringing in top-notch national and international talent, but part of its mandate has always been to celebrate the work of artists living and creating right here in Edmonton. The festivities begin April 17, with six events featuring local poets. I’m excited to be a part of one of those events, Thresholds, organized and hosted by Edmonton writer Stephen T. Berg. I asked Stephen to tell me a little more about Thresholds, and why poetry is a part of his life.
KM: I believe last year (2015) was the first year the Edmonton Poetry Festival decided to hold Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) events for local poets. You and I actually ended up reading at the same event on the first evening of the fest, and I’m so excited to hear you, and all the other artists you’ve lined up this year. Can you tell me about why you decided to organize your own event and how you came up with the idea for Thresholds?
SB: Simply put, I thought organizing a BYOV would be interesting and fun. I’m part of a small, loosely defined, art/faith group, and so thought to float the idea there first; everyone was on board. The theme came out of our first discussion. I think Edward van Vliet first mentioned the word Thresholds.
KM: In addition to being a lovely afternoon of words, art and song, Thresholds will also be a fundraiser for Bleeding Heart Art Space. Can you tell me about that organization and why you decided to partner with them for the event?
SB: The connection with Bleeding Heart Art Space is natural. Dave Von Bieker, musician/poet, is doing something on 118th Avenue that’s quite wonderful. With support, he’s set up this little gallery that is busy carving out something like a sacred space for art, community, hope, healing, love–I’m all for that.
KM: How long have you been writing poetry? And the follow-up question that all writers just love…why do you write poetry?
SB: I really don’t know when I started writing poetry. What I do know is that creative nonfiction, with a spiritual bent, has interested me for a very long time. I have journals going back to the 80’s full of this kind of writing–most of it woefully pedantic. But what happened is that somewhere along the way poetry showed up. At first, and I’m still careful and hesitant about this, I didn’t see this slow turn as poetry, until it was pointed out to me. The more I played with sentences, trying to make them say more than they’re capable of saying–trying, I suppose, to touch mystery, in the original sense of that word–the more I went hunting for images. The more I hunted for images, the more I listened, the more I listened, the more I was lost to presence, beauty, mercy. Today, for me, poetry seems the natural and appropriate vehicle for the spiritual quest. I write poetry because I have yet to truly hear what I’m listening to.
KM: Are there any other events in this year’s Edmonton Poetry Festival schedule that you’re excited about?
SB: I love hearing local poets, so I always look forward to the Café Readings. The beauty of the festival is that we also get a chance to hear national and international poets. Just check out the Authors Page on the festival’s website. Three quick “spiritual” picks? “Poetry Becomes Spirit”, “Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths”, “Poetry Among the Pines”. But of course, every event will contain stellar moments. Hats off to Rayanne Doucet and the staff, directors and volunteers of Edmonton Poetry Fest!
Thresholds happens Sunday, April 17, 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., at St. Faith’s Anglican Church, 11725 – 93 Street. Seven poets, two musicians, and one visual artist will ask you to pause, consider, linger in the spaces between the seen and unseen, the telluric and transcendent – the between, between being and Being. Admission is by donation: Proceeds will go to the Bleeding Heart Art Space. For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1662808630649670/