How a small, impromptu poetry reading turned into 14 years of festivals

The annual Poetry Weekend at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton is back for a 15th year, with two days of readings featuring poets from across Canada and the U.S.

Poetry Weekend at UNB Fredericton is back for 2 days of low-key, 'really fun' readings

UNB English professor Ross Leckie started the Poetry Weekend from scratch 14 years ago. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Fourteen years ago, Ross Leckie wanted to throw together an impromptu poetry jam. A well-known poet was in Fredericton, there were some university graduates with books coming out and he thought a small event would be fun.

Then word spread.

To Leckie's surprise, that five-poet gathering spawned an annual, though low-key, poetry festival at the University of New Brunswick. Now in its 15th iteration, Poetry Weekend attracts dozens of poets to the campus each year from across Canada and the United States.

And they come at their own expense.

While the free two-day festival has grown in size, it's maintained a low profile. Leckie, an English professor at UNB, doesn't apply for grants or do much in the way of advertising.

The 15th annual Poetry Weekend takes place Saturday and Sunday at UNB Fredericton. (Gary Moore/CBC)

After word spread around the region prior to the inaugural festival, Leckie received a deluge of calls and emails asking to take part.

"If you can get here, you can read," he told them.

The same is true today and it speaks to the relaxed nature of the event. There's no headliners, no extended sets — just a "democratic and participatory" atmosphere, he said. The festival has hosted some famous poets, but they're treated the same as an English undergrad. Everyone reads two or three items.

"I think it's something in the spirit of poetry that we have a sense of being part of a community in Canada, and I also think the spirit of the festival is just kind of wide open, everyone's friendly,' Leckie said.

"It's just going to be really fun, and you're going to meet a lot different people that wouldn't ordinarily have a chance to meet."

The University of New Brunswick will be the site for the 15th annual Poetry Weekend on Saturday and Sunday. (Submitted by UNB)

The festival is spread over six slots on Saturday and Sunday in Memorial Hall on the UNB campus. Eight to 10 poets will read at 11a.m., then 2 p.m. and finally 8 p.m. on both days.

About 60 poets are expected this year, Leckie said. They're travelling from as far as the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Kenora, Ont., Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.

Some notables poets include: A.F. Moritz, Dani Couture, Amanda Jernigan, Adam Sol, Cornelia Hoogland, Darren Bifford and Stewart Cole. 

With files from Gary Moore