Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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POET LAUREATE, ONE YEAR ON

When the Victoria Times Colonist printed their Christmas poems last December, many of us wondered if PK Page was going to pack her bags and leave town. She did, the last of our great Golden Age poets.

I’m staying on until my job is done.

Perhaps you are wondering what a Poet Laureate actually does, apart from dodging arrows from unsuccessful PL candidates, critics with agendas and politicians who prioritize downhill skiing in artificial snow and bad Beatles imitations over art. We write poetry, some great, some not so great. We have all read bad obligatory poems from good poets, Ted Hughes poem celebrating the marriage of Prince Andrew and the toe-sucking redhead has to be a supreme example of what happens when a poet uses an enema to force the words out.

I spend quite a bit of time writing poetry for fundraisers and events (The Butler Book Prizes, the earthquake in Haiti, a canoe carved by our Lieutenant Governor, The Homeless Forum, the Rosemary Brown stamp for Black History Month) and even for businesses like Victoria Gin and the Bay lingerie department. In the name of inclusivity, I encourage everyone to write and participate in events like the Pacific Festival of the Book. Workshops for elders (Oh my god, I am one), schoolchildren and streetkids (YES! The Youth Empowerment Society) have been pure joy.

In this year alone, we have raised with Ukulapha (“healing” in Swahili) almost 200K in South African currency to fund a library, kitchen garden and clinic at Slangspruit School in South Africa. Now these intelligent eager AIDS orphans are fed body and mind. That sure makes up for the arrows.

After a recent attack in what passes for a daily newspaper whose literary mentor is the most under-talented and over-ambitious poet-lite in the history of doggerel, my blood flowed down the street and into the Selkirk Narrows. John Barton, who has been called St. John of Arc, called me St Linda of Styles St. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe meets The Devil Wears Prada).

I have always thought poetry was a holy vocation, but when poets attack poets (we’ll leave out the adjectives. It is so subjective!) that altruism is undermined. In Victoria, which we are used to calling the poetry capitol of Canada, poets like PK Page, Robin Skelton, Dorothy Livesay and Al Purdy, who lived here half the year, the word poetry community was not yet an oxymoron.

Sadly, the void left by these stellar individuals was quickly filled by people who think poetry is a career. How silly is that? Don’t careers provide tenure, dental plans and real pay cheques? Don’t they demand that careerists colour within the lines? That doesn’t sound like freedom of expression to me.

I keep saying it; when the government goes beyond indifference to actually undermining the foundations of Canadian art, why would artists go after one another like fighting cocks? Is this what they call “looting” after natural disasters, when the weak must fight one another for crumbs. We are all exploited when this happens.

While the world weeps for Haiti, poets should be focused on what we can do to help. Every dollar, every well chosen word of solace is essential to our survival as a species. That is our true vocation.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers is the author of the novels Say My Name (Ekstasis Editions, 2000), Friday Water (Cormorant Books, 2003) and The Empress Letters (Cormorant Books, 2007). She has also published several collections of poetry, including Love in the Rainforest (Exile Editions, 1996), Heaven Cake (Sono Nis Press, 1997), The Saning (Sono Nis Press, 1999) and The Bursting Test (Guernica Editions, 2002).

Go to Linda Rogers’s Author Page