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The Atwater Poetry Project ‘tells the truth’ through poetry

Most people rarely experience poetry outside of educational contexts—an AP Literature course in high school or a mandatory poetics course taken to fulfill  requirements at university. The Atwater Poetry Project is changing that, just three metro stops from campus. Founded 14 years ago by poet and translator Oana Avasilichioaei, the initiative was a joint collaboration between her and the Atwater Library. Now, the 2017 season opens, with Coordinator Deanna Radford leading the way.

“This [effort] is to bring poetry from Montreal and Canada to the neighbourhood,” said Radford. The sessions offer a means for poets to present their work in front of an audience. Readings are held monthly at the Atwater Library at 7:00 p.m. and feature two or three poets in one evening. After the readings are over, the floor is opened for a Q&A with the audience. 

Radford elaborated on her choice of picking which artists to feature. 

“It’s a really fun process. There’s a mix […] of ways in which I try to seek out poetry,” Radford said. “There were ongoing conversations with the previous coordinator and other poets. I would bring those people in, and then from my personal reading of poetry and from conversations with people who attended, I gathered suggestions.” 

The 2017 lineup is noticeably diverse. The speakers for this year’s inaugural season, held on Feb. 23, were Gwen Benaway, a Two-Spirited Trans poet from Huron County, and Adebe DeRango-Adem, a mixed-race poet from Toronto. Both poets presented work deeply influenced by their personal experiences, covering themes such as lost love, the desire to belong, and the desire to change. 

“I feel it’s important to bring in different kinds of poets from different genres and different communities,” Radford commented. “I feel that artists and poets do important work in often talking about issues more intimately than is discussed in popular media or popular culture. We look towards artists for inspiration, for salvation, for all kinds of reasons. I think it’s really exciting to hear about a range of people’s experience.”

The Atwater Poetry Project prioritizes accessibility. The venue is a block away from the metro station, and the public is encouraged to attend. 

“It’s a real gift, […] an offering to the community,” Radford said. “There’s always work to be done to spread the word.” 

In a time of unprecedented political instability, poet DeRango-Adem feels strongly about defining the need for poetry. 

“My main challenge is consistency […. to] carve out time for writing. To make it sanctuary time,” she said.  

Benaway also stressed the spiritual aspect of poetry. 

“Writing poetry is not just cathartic, but rather an exercise in prayer,” Benaway said. “When I repeat a poem at multiple locations, it becomes a mantra. That’s the powerful thing about poetry, its connection to meditation and framing in language.” 

Both poets also emphasized that poetry must be truthful to its inspiration, whether it be a personal dilemma or a social injustice. Benaway referred to a quote by Adrienne Rich: “When a woman tells the truth, she creates the possibility for more truth around her.” 

“I think in life and poetry, we have to make space for more truth,” Benaway explained.  “So, that’s what I always try to do when I go on stage, to try and tell the truth.” 

While ‘fake news’ already seems to have become the buzzword of the year, the Atwater Poetry Project provides a vital authenticity. Its sessions are accessible and aim to foster communication between artists and the public. 

“[It’s] truly a place where we can listen to and celebrate what artists have to say,” Benaway  said.


The upcoming session will feature readings by Kelly Norah Drukker and Carolyne Van Der Meer, and will be held  on March 23 at 7 pm at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre. 

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