Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Profile on The Sawdust Reading Series, with a few questions

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Jennifer Pederson (Photo Credit: Pearl Pirie)

By rob mclennan

After a brief stint co-organizing Ottawa?s long-running music and poetry series, The Dusty Owl Reading Series (currently on an extended haitus), Ottawa poet, musician and teacher Jennifer Pederson launched The Sawdust Reading Series in September 2014. Held as ?a new Ottawa-based reading series shining a light on both sung and unsung Ottawa poets,? the featured performers at The Sawdust Reading Series are drawn almost exclusively from the local community, and have included a wide cross-section of established and emerging Ottawa poets: Monty Reid, Liam Burke, Pearl Pirie, Amanda Earl, Mike Caesar, Brandon Wint, Fiona Mitchell, Catina Noble, Paddy Scott, Kevin Matthews, Vivian Vavassis, Marilyn Irwin and Stephen Brockwell. The series exists amid an already impressive amount of reading series throughout Ottawa, including The TREE Reading Series, In/Words, AB Series, Capital Slam and The Factory Reading Series. Held on the third Wednesday of each month at Pour Boy Pub, 495 Somerset Street West, events begin at 7:00pm and include an open set, a curated featured reader and a co-reader selected via a monthly contest.

Organized by Pederson along with assistant director, Liam Burke, upcoming featured performers include Matt Jones (April), David O?Meara (May), Ian Burgham, Steven Heighton and English performance poet Mike Garry (June), Christine McNair (July), Sandra Ridley (October) and Pearl Pirie (December).

rob mclennan:

Given the number of reading series in Ottawa, what was the initial impulse for founding Sawdust, and how does it differ from what else is out there?

Jennifer Pederson:

Sawdust arose from a genuine desire to give exposure and experience to emerging Ottawa voices. Of the many series in the city, none had this particular focus. Readings were dominated by established names. There is a wealth of hidden talent in Ottawa, and we want to shed light on it. As each month we feature a veteran poet and a less experienced contest winner, we provide the best of all worlds. Sawdust is also geared to be as inclusive as possible. As we select our veterans from all brands of poetry, we do not have an exclusive crowd to which to cater. Rather, Sawdust is a hub for all of the communities to come together. A page poet could easily share the stage with a spoken word poet.


The idea of selecting one of your monthly features through a contest is an intriguing one. Why did you decide to select readers this way, as opposed to purely curating, and how successful do you feel this has been?


We want Sawdust to belong to the community, not to us. Were we to be the ones to select all features, it would defeat the purpose entirely. The contest provides a number of benefits. As the judge for each contest is the veteran feature from the month before, poets always have a new chance to win. Also, to be selected from a group by an established poet can provide the confidence a newer poet needs to take more risks and to put themselves out there in the future. For the community, it provides an ever-changing series that guarantees something new and exceptional each month. The contest has been a resounding success, with such high quality winners as Mike Caesar, Liam Burke and Fiona Mitchell, and judges such as Stephen Brockwell, Kevin Matthews and Phil Hall.


What do you feel have been the highlights of the series so far? What are you hoping to accomplish over the next year or two?


Each Sawdust event has been a highlight, as each has differed so greatly from the next. However, perhaps the biggest highlight in a general sense is the genuine warmth and supportive atmosphere that has developed in the series. No one will ever feel unwelcome. Not if we can help it.

Liam Burke has recently come on board as Assistant Director, and he has brought a wonderful energy and enthusiasm. We are very excited to be hosting fantastic veteran poets such as Sandra Ridley, Pearl Pirie, Christine McNair, rob mclennan, and David O'Meara in the coming months. Also in the works are free workshops on poetry presentation and voice work, hopefully in place by the coming fall. We are also considering outreach to local high schools to develop a teen-only contest and subsequent reading. Keep an eye on our developments via Facebook or Twitter!

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa with his brilliantly talented wife, the poet, editor and bookbinder Christine McNair, and their daughter, Rose. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He also curates the weekly ?Tuesday poem? series at the dusie blog, and the ?On Writing? series at the ottawa poetry newsletter. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at He currently spends his days full-time with toddler Rose, writing entirely at the whims of her nap-schedule.

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