Verses Festival of Words Closes with a Slam!

By Maegan Thomas

Verses Festival of Words is on now celebrating the transformative power of words: poetic, musical, comedic and all the genres in between and a few not yet invented.

“I love that Verses…brings together so many different styles of poetry and such an array of voices and talents.” – Evelyn Lau

“Verses is invigorating: Great curation, real enthusiasm, real vision. Great poets.” – Sean Cranbury

Verses Festival closes April 12 with three incredible events:

Word Circus – 1pm at Havana Theatre – a whirlwind of words from Sheri-D Wilson, James Lamb, Billeh Nickerson and reigning Canadian Indie Poetry Slam Champion Ikenna ‘OpenSecret’ Onyegbula.


East Van Poetry Salon – 2pm Havana Theatre FREE – publishing in the 21st Century with Vancouver Poet Laureate Evelyn Lau and Sean Cranbury of Books on the Radio


Canadian Individual Poetry Slam FINALS – 8pm Rio Theatre – top 12 slam poets in Canada compete for top spot with a special performance by Evelyn Lau, Vancouver Poet Laureate.


Follow the CIPS competition with LIVE scoring and standings at and @VanPoetryHouse

Two time CIPS Champion Ikenna ‘OpenSecret’ Onyegbula notes, “For my money, Verses is the premier spoken word festival in Canada. The Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championship offers artistic development through slam like no other poetry festival in the country. The format of the competition stretches you, testing your ability to write poems, perform them, and then find ways to connect to a given audience. In the past couple of years, the festival has also been used by the World Poetry Slam in Paris as a determinant in choosing who gets to represent Canada at the international level, and that’s pretty rad too.”

I caught up with OpenSecret about the Finals, James Lamb and Billeh Nickerson about Word Circus, while Sean Cranbury has a few notes on what makes East Van an inspiring home for the literary.

James Lamb, whose album Imagineering has been described as a hot cup of soup on a cold day, describes the power of Word Circus’ round robin format, where artists “build their sets on the fly, inspired by what everyone else is doing.  Sometimes there is even collaboration.  Sometimes people just do what ever they want regardless of the, honestly loose, rules.”

And how does spontaneity inform your work?

With this kind of format I have to really pay attention to what everyone is writing about, or not writing about, and see how and where my work will make sense along side the rest.  It’s a good way to test/showcase the depth of any writer/songwriter.

What’s your favourite recent addition to your personal word circus?

Rewilding.  Conservationist, Dave Foreman, brought the term to light a few decades ago.  I love the way it sounds first and foremost.  It is a term used to describe large scale conservation efforts to restore and protect natural processes and wilderness areas.

Billeh Nickerson’s most recent collection Artificial Cherry is “cheeky sweet unafraid to laugh—both as comic relief and as a way of laughing at ourselves. It’s a happier version of the Smiths. This book is the result of a gay poet from Langley who grew up watching Joan Rivers.”

WordCircus has a round robin, spontaneous at the core of it’s format – what does that mean in your work?

I am scared shitless. I’m the least spontaneous of the performers. I just hope they are nice to me.

I am more page than stage, so spontaneity is more about how I deal with hecklers or how I banter. I don’t deviate too much from my crafted text. Now I’m scared.

Sean Cranbury of Books on the Radio is embarking on a new project The Interruption, a collaboration with 49th Shelf that features interviews with writers about the things that take them away from their writing and what it is that keeps bringing them back.

What, for you, is the poetry of East Van?

The poetry of East Van is captured for me in that magic hour at the end of the day during the summer months when the sun flares off the west facing windows along Commercial Drive and the entire neighbourhood is bathed in golden light. The smell of marijuana in the air, the sounds of conversation along patios and on balconies, the street corner beat box poetics as the low riding convertibles slowly make their way. To me that is the perfect expression of East Van poetry – the whole scene is so contemporary and timeless, so unique, so well lit, so fragrant.

How does Vancouver inform your work?

Vancouver contains multitudes. It contains all the hope and all the terror of the world. Vancouver is a city that exists at some point in the very near future. Close enough to now to be recognizable but far enough away to blow your mind.