One evening in mid-February, the Cinnamon Café in downtown Fredericton was overrun with poets. The occasion was a Spoken Word Poetry Night, and while poetry events are normally notorious for drawing small crowds, the King Street café quickly ran out of seating.
“We had to borrow chairs from the church next door,” explains Cassidy Ingersoll, who organized the event. A poet herself, Ingersoll is currently working on her first manuscript, but admits that she hasn’t shared much of her writing yet. The spoken word night was one of her first ventures into the Fredericton writing community: “I got into spoken word over the last year, and thought it would be interesting to hear other local writers’ takes on it.”
|photo credit: Tom Stanley|
The night of the event, there was no shortage of local writers. While eight poets had registered in advance to perform, others added their names as the evening proceeded; Ingersoll estimates that somewhere between twenty and twenty-five poets shared the mic, with some reading multiple poems, or returning to read more than once. “I really planned out this first reading, just so it wouldn’t be a bust,” says Ingersoll, who had the initial eight readers on a paper schedule. “But I did want more of an open mic style, which it did turn into, and that was fantastic.”
Asked to describe some the night’s readers, Ingersoll notes that there was a significant range of age groups: “some writers were in their 40s and 50s, and others were 18, maybe 19 to 22. The younger poets were a bit shyer, and were maybe just there to feel it out, at first, but once the older group got started, the younger ones got inspired. People were going up who hadn’t prepared anything to read, and either improvising, or going from poems they’d started to memorize.”
After the event, Ingersoll was approached by Hayden Wheeler, one of the evening’s performers, who proposed starting an online group for attendees and other local writers to network. The open group Wheeler created, titled the “Fredericton Poetry Scene,” can be found and joined on Facebook. Though it currently only has forty-six members, she aims to expand it into a hub for news about literary and spoken word readings and workshops in Fredericton.
Ingersoll hopes to make the Spoken Word Poetry Night a recurring event. Though a larger venue might be ideal, given the surge of interest at the first reading, she specifies that she would prefer to avoid using a bar venue, so as not to exclude younger, under-19 poets.
Part of the success of the event, she explains, was that it brought out a crowd of writers who tend to feel excluded by on-campus or university-organized literary events. “It’s hard to hear about what’s going on when you aren’t regularly on campus, and if you aren’t a student, it sometimes feels like you might not be welcome there,” she admits, referring to events such as the University of New Brunswick’s annual reading series and student-organized Qwerty Reads, and St. Thomas University’s Stand and Deliver.
Ingersoll’s goal is to create an ongoing, off-campus poetry series that will help to integrate the various writing communities in Fredericton. “We wanted to do this first night just to see if there was any interest at all, and there was so much more than we could have expected,” she says. “I kept thinking how I didn’t know any of these people, but it was great to see so many writers in one place, all interested in sharing the same thing.”