Tag Archive | open mic

“Voices for the Voiceless” – Poetry, Anti-Oppression Work, and Doin’ It Rong.

Hi everybody.
I’ve been sitting on this post for months, but I really need to talk about this, so here it is.
When we started running VoV, the idea was to give all women a place where we could stand up and tell our own stories through poetry and prose. And this has worked really well over the almost four years we’ve been doing it.
However I need to throw a reminder up on here.
See, the operative words in that mission statement are “our own”.
In the local – and probably not-so-local, if youtube is any judge – spoken word community, there’s a lot of what I think of as Activist Poetry; poetry that makes the personal political in one way or another. I’ve written that kind of poetry and chances are that you, reading this, have as well. Some of it’s more personal and some of it’s more political, but there’s definitely a lot of it about.
And, of course, not everyone shares the same politics.
Some of you have probably listened to someone like me perform a piece about womanhood or sexuality and wondered how the performer could feel so differently about their chosen subject than you do. I know I’ve sat at the back of the show, twitching in my seat, as someone has performed a poem about her pro-life stance, or has used a word like “hooker” as if it were a pejorative instead of a career choice; and I’ve bitten my lip and reminded myself You can’t police people’s choices of words. She’s telling her own story. If you tell her she has to tell it differently, then it stops being Voices of Venus and turns into Voices of People Who Sound Just Like You.
But sometimes you do have to draw a line.
Remember what I said about telling our own stories?
There’s this pervasive, insidious idea that there are “people with no voices”. To pick an example near-and-dear to my own heart, people who are vocal about wanting to abolish sexwork through criminalization are also, frequently, people who don’t listen to actual sexworkers talking about how the criminalization of their jobs, or things associated with their jobs, actually makes the work more dangerous and the industry, itself, harder to leave in the long run.
Frequently, “people with no voices” really means “people whose voices get ignored”.
And those are not actually the same thing.
I mean, look at VoV. We created this stage because women have, for a long time, been classified as “people with no voices”: People whose voices get ignored. It’s why Charlotte Bronte wrote under the pen name “Currer Bell” in order to publish. It’s why an unknown author with a potential run-away hit on her hands styled herself “J.K.” instead of “Joanne”. It’s why Rusty felt a need to write that post about attendance at the women’s slams in town.
Just because women, as a population or as individuals, have been told in various ways that “people (with voices)” don’t want to listen to us… doesn’t mean that we’re not speaking, or that we have nothing to stay.
So. Where am I going with this?
Sometimes well intentioned people – people who officially “have voices” – fuck up. A man will try to speak about sexualized street harassment as if he experiences it to the same degree that women do; a white woman will try to talk about racial oppression from a perspective that isn’t, and can’t be, hers; a straight person will try to talk about the experience of being queer…
I get that we do this because we want those stories to be told, to be heard, to be listened to. But when we, as activists using poetry and narrative to draw attention to oppression, try to speak from a perspective that isn’t our own; and when we rely on two-dimensional tropes like “The Noble Savage” or “The Almost-Deceptive-Enough Trans Woman”, or “The Abused Street Hooker”, or any of the other cardboard cut-outs, in order to do it… we’re being part of the problem.
The best thing we can do, when we want a situation to be brought to light, is to shut up and listen, and make space for those stories to be told by the people who experience those situations.
If you’re someone who officially “has a voice” – a straight person who wants to talk about homophobia, a white person who wants to talk about racialized oppression, someone with a roof overhead who wants to talk about homelessness – do it by telling your own story.
I can’t write about decolonizing indigenous women’s bodies – the way, say, Moe Clark and Emilie Monnet do – because I don’t have that experience. But I can write, as Luna Allison did in her “Scotch Broom” poem, about being a naturalized transplant, a white woman whose home is on colonized soil.
I can’t write about whore stigma from the perspective of a street-based sex worker, or an indoor escort, because those experiences aren’t mine. But I can write about the horror and disgust on the face of the faculty-member who demanded “Does your wife know you have naked women in here??” of the animation prof that I work for …and talk about it that way.
If we talk about oppression by being open, and getting vulnerable, and telling our own stories, we make space for everyone to tell theirs.


August Upcoming Events Listings

Shows and Showcases

Story Swap

Thursday, August 4th, 2011 – 7pm

National Library (395 Wellington at Bay)

Free Admission


The Crimson Series ft Patricia McCarthy

Saturday, August 6th – 10am

Strathcona Park (Laurier E. at Range Rd)

Vampire Romance Reading

Admission Unknown


EDITED to ADD:  Capital Slam ft Mary Pinkoski

Saturday, August 6th, 2011 -7pm (doors 6:30pm)

Mercury Lounge, 56 Byward

$7 at the door BUT free if you perform


Words of a Poet III ft Fadhiya Jama, Alysia Harris, Shihan, B. Yung, Jamaal St.John, Dwayne Morgan, Ibn Najeeb, and Kaleb Simmonds

Saturday, August 6th, 2011 – 6:30pm

National Art Gallery

$25 at the door – funds to refugees in Tunisia


Voices of Venus ft Sarah Musa

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 – 8pm-10pm (doors and sign-up list at 7pm)

Umi Café (610 Somerset West at Percy) – Last Show at Umi Café

$5/PWYC at the door BUT free if you perform


Midnight Sweatlodge Ottawa Launch ft Vera Wabegijig, Lisa Marie Naponse and Waubgeshig Rice
Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 — 7-9PM
SAW Gallery (67 Nicholas St.)

Free Admission


Stories and Tea

Tuesday, August 9th – 7pm

The Tea Party café (119 York Street)

$8 suggested donation


Tree Reading Series ft Frances Boyle, Kathryn Hunt and Bardia Sinaee

Tuesday, Agust 9th , 2011 – 8pm

Arts Court (2 Daly Ave)

Includes an Open Mic


First Edition Reading Series (Perth) ft Jill Battson, Christine McNair and Rob McLennan

Friday, August 12, 2011 – 7pm
Backbeat Books & Music & Gifts (6 Wilson Street West, Perth Ontario)
$5.00 at the door


Capital Slam at Nostalgica ft Sense-Say, Loh El, Sean O’Gorman, Bruce Narbaitz and Rusty Priske

Friday, August 12th, 2011 – 9pm

Café Nostalgica (603 Cumberland at U of O)



Spoken Word at the National Gallery ft Mehdi Gonny-Hamdad, Rusty Priske, Marjolaine Beauchamp, Kevin Matthews

Saturday, August 13th, 2011 – 2pm

National Gallery

Price – Cost of Admission to the Caravaggio Exhibit


Dusty Owl Presents ft Jan Andrews (EDIT to ADD: Pride Show)

Sunday, August 21st – 5pm

Carleton Tavern (223 Armstrong Ave at Parkdale)

$5 suggested donation


Stories and Tea

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 – 7pm

The Tea Party café (119 York Street)

$8 suggested donation


Tree Readings Series ft Amanda Earl, Sandra Ridley, Pearl Pirie & Christine McNair

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 – 8pm

Arts Court (2 Daly Ave)

Includes an Open Mic


Oneness Poetry Showcase ft Hyfidelik

Thursday, August 25th, 2011 – 7pm

East Africa Restaurant, 376 Rideau St.

$7 at the door


Reading Out Loud 6 ft Jeremy Dias, Karin Galldin, Marcus McCann, and DJ Oliver/Ghaida

Thursday, August 25th, 2011 – 8pm

Venus Envy (320 Lisgar)



Weekly Open Mics:

Spoken Word and Live Lit Open Mic

Collected Works (Wellington at Holland)

Fridays at 6:30pm


Open Mic Fridays

Umi Café (Somerset at Percy)

Fridays at 8pm


Poetry and Music Open Stage

Café Nostalgica (603 Cumberland at U of O)

Thursdays at 8:30pm



Weekly Writing Workshops:

Creative Writing Play Date with Sean Zio

Mother Tongue Books (Bank at Sunnyside)

Tuesdays at 8pm


Poetry Workshops with Brandon Wint

Umi Café (Somerset at Percy)

Sundays at 1pm


In/Words Writers’ Circle

Carleton University, 1811 Dunton Tower

Mondays at 6pm




Did we miss something?  Drop us a comment and let us know what’s coming up.