If ever there was an unconventional woman, it was Venus — Roman goddess of love, pleasure and fertility. She was born, as the legend goes, when her mother Gaia became so angry at her husband that she sliced off his genitals and tossed them into the ocean.
Venus was so intensely beautiful that the male gods of Olympus immediately sought to possess her, nearly resulting in a divine war. To control her, they married her off to Vulcan, the infamously unattractive and politically impotent god of blacksmithing. Venus, not terribly pleased about this, simply ignored the situation and went on to influence the affairs of mortals such as Psyche and Adonis, take lovers at her own discretion, protect the chastity of virgins while simultaneously symbolizing sexual pleasure and the divine feminine and become widely worshipped throughout Rome as one of the twelve principle deities. In other words, Venus was the kind of woman who did her own thing.
Which makes her the perfect namesake for Voices of Venus, a monthly feminist poetry series held at Umi Café. Twenty-seven year-old Carleton University student Erin Cummings founded the event this past April to create a forum to celebrate female poets and "the divine feminine."
"The Ottawa slam poetry scene is really, really phenomenal, but still a male-dominated forum despite a wealth of female poetic talent," says Cummings. "We wanted to create an event where women felt comfortable trying out their poetry in front of a supportive and intimate crowd without the added tension of competing against other poets as they would at a slam."
The event focusses mainly on non-professional poets, with a featured poet at each reading and lots of time for open-mic poets to come up and read. While the event is geared to women's experiences and the feminine, Cummings stresses male poets are also welcome, "so long as their poems are in celebration of the divine feminine."
Cummings says she herself "dabbles" in poetry, but prefers to contribute to the Ottawa scene by offering her "unwavering support" of local artists with events like Voices.
The readings are hosted by Amazon Syren and Capital Xtra darling Festrell (Faye Estrella), a spoken word performer and musician in Ottawa's queer community.
"I am inspired by the young women who live, write and perform right here in Ottawa," she says. "My dream for Voices is for it to continue to attract poets from every corner of the city so that they know their talent, abilities and potential are equal to those of even the most famous published poets and writers."
So why have a reading dedicated solely to the feminine and female poets?
"To speak generally, I think female poets often bring a warmth, sensuality and compassion to their poetry, which is refreshing and often uplifting," says Cummings. "That is not to say that male poets don't speak beautiful, uplifting words, but it is inspiring to hear my sisters share their light with us."
Voices of Venus runs the second Tuesday of every month.