Versefest Fire and Ice spoken word event gives platform to female voices

Like many artistic fields, the spoken word community in Ottawa is dominated by male poets and has been for some time. Fortunately, Versefest’s Fire and Ice show will be showcasing some of the best female poets from all over the country, giving female voices their chance in the spotlight.

The show, which takes place on March 19, will feature four female poets—Rebecca Lea Thomas, Vanessa Rotondo (better known as V), Annie St-Jean, and former University of Ottawa student Amy Iliza—and was organized by former U of O student Artemysia Fragiskatos.

Fragiskatos says that the female show at Versefest began as a slam, with the female poets competing against each other, but that once she got involved she changed it to be a showcase instead.

“I see the function and the joy of a slam, but I think it’s important to have noncompetitive spaces, particularly when there’s not that many female spoken word artists in the Ottawa area,” says Fragiskatos. “I thought we should change it from a competitive atmosphere to one that’s more about celebrating voices.”

One of the voices that will be celebrated at the event is that of Amy Iliza, who made her spoken word debut back in Sept. 2015 at House of PainT’s OG 500 poetry slam competition, where she also met Fragiskatos. The two kept in touch after the competition, leading Fragiskatos to ask Iliza to perform at Fire and Ice when she was putting together the showcase.

“Her aura is actually so amazing, she’s actually such a nice person, so instead of just being really competitive with me, she was actually maybe my biggest supporter there,” says Iliza. “Since she is the one organizing it, she contacted me and she asked me if I wanted to do the show, and of course I accepted.”

Although Iliza has only been performing for about six months, she has already found her place in the spoken word community and loves being on stage, despite the nerves she feels before getting on.

“Just the feeling and knowing that people are listening to you, because clearly you hear the silence in the room, it’s such a great, empowering feeling. It’s like ‘oh, my voice is being heard’,” says Iliza.

“You know that in in this society sometimes, especially as a woman, we don’t always feel that way. So it’s always beautiful to see a vast group of people from different cultures, different age groups, different genders and they just all seem to find something that they can relate to in your poem—that’s the best feeling ever.”

Fragiskatos echoed a similar statement about feeling empowered through poetry, saying that her favourite part of performing is “connecting with the audience.”

“Having someone come up to you after a show and saying like ‘this one line from that one poem really hit me hard’—it’s pretty empowering and gratifying,” says Fragiskatos.

Both women also shared similar sentiments about the importance of Fire and Ice as a platform for female voices in a city where they often go unheard in the spoken word community. Iliza also noted that she is excited to hear from diverse poets “that come from different walks of life,” something both Fire and Ice and Versefest seem more than willing to offer this year.

Fire and Ice takes place on March 19 at 4:30 p.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church. Tickets are available at the door for $10, or as part of passes available online. For more information, visit http://versefest.ca/year/2016/.