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Special Feature! An Interview with Hazel Millar on National Poetry Month

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Hazel Millar

April is National Poetry Month and Open Book is kicking the celebration off with a chat with Hazel Millar, Publicity and Media Manager for National Poetry Month for the League of Canadian Poets.

Today, Hazel tells us about the exciting programming planned for National Poetry Month, the inspiration for this year's "savoury" theme and some of her favourite poets.

Open Book:

Could you tell us a bit about National Poetry Month and the programming that the League of Canadian Poets has planned?

Hazel Millar:

National Poetry Month was established by the LCP in April 1998. It brings together poets, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries and schools from across the country to celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canada's culture. This year, which marks the 17th anniversary of NPM in Canada, we're celebrating Food & Poetry with sponsored readings across the country and online conversations across platforms. Follow along on our NPM blog or on twitter @CanadianPoets and join in on the fun by using the hashtags #eatingpoetry and #NPM15. A complete listing of readings and events is up on the LCP website.

We've also partnered with the city of Calgary, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and Loft 112 for the Mayor's Poetry City Challenge. Begun in 2012, the Challenge is an annual initiative through which municipal councils across Canada open their Council meetings with a reading from a local poet. The aim is for local communities to celebrate poetry, writing, small presses and the contribution of poets and all writers to the rich cultural life in our country. The Challenge was first offered by Regina’s Mayor Pat Fiacco and continued by Mayor Michael Fougere. This year, Calgary has taken over as the host city, with Mayor Naheed Nenshi offering the challenge to his fellow Canadian mayors.

Lastly, on April 1st, we'll announce the shortlists for the 2015 Gerald Lampert, Pat Lowther and Raymond Souster Memorial Awards, and the winner of the 2015 Sheri D. Wilson "Golden Beret" Spoken Word Award.

OB:

How was this year’s theme selected?

HM:

This year's savoury theme, Food and Poetry, was inspired by Rachel Rose’s inaugural speech as Vancouver’s Poet Laureate (see below). We are all very excited about the theme. We encourage poets and hosts across the country to explore and investigate the ways in which “food is personal, political, sensual and powerful.” Food nourishes, grounds and connects us, much like poetry. Without food as without poetry, we go hungry.

“Everyone has something to say about food, whether it is the activist challenging the cruelties of conventional farming, the exile remembering the waft of spices on lost streets, or the child writing about the sockeye salmon she buys at Granville Island. Food is personal, political, sensual, and powerful. It concerns every one of us. It’s time to write hymns to dumplings, sonnets to community gardens, love lyrics to beekeepers, odes to the food banks that fed your family while you were sick, pantoums to the lost spices of home now that you are an exile, fierce free verse about conventional chicken farming, performance poetry about guerilla gardens, hymns to the feasts your grandmother prepared, incantations about poverty and food insecurity and bohemian rhapsodies about dumpster diving.” – Rachel Rose

OB:

How did you come to be involved with the League and National Poetry Month?

HM:

In late 2013, Joanna Poblocka, Executive Director of the LCP, contacted me and asked if I might be interested in working with the League as the Publicity and Media Manager for NPM in 2014. I was honoured and excited by the opportunity and happily accepted the contract. It was a great experience and, lucky for me, they asked me back again this year.

OB:

Who are some of your favourite poets?

HM:

I'm a poetry fangirl and have a lot of favourite poets. In my full time job, I'm the Publicist at BookThug and I get to work closely on a daily basis with so many wonderful poets and I love and admire all of them. Some of my other favourite poets are Sue Goyette, Helen Guri, Liz Worth, Lisa Robertson, Brecken Hancock, Margaret Christakos, Kathryn Mockler, Jennifer LoveGrove, Louise Glück, etc, etc, etc. Recently, I read and loved Kayla Czaga's debut For Your Safety Please Hold On and Stevie Howell's terrific ^^^^^^ [Sharps].

OB:

How does the League support and promote poetry in Canada? What is it that makes the Canadian poetry world special?

HM:

The mandate of the LCP is to nurture the advancement of poetry in Canada. It serves the poetry community and promotes a high level of professional achievement through events, networking, projects, publications, mentoring and awards. It administers programs and funds for governments and private donors and encourages an appreciative readership and audience for poetry. Funding programs include Poets in the Schools, Readings in Public Spaces and Canada Poetry Tours. As the recognized voice of Canadian poets, the LCP represents their concerns to governments, publishers and society at large, and maintains connections with similar organizations at home and abroad. The League also strives to promote equal opportunities for poets from every literary tradition and cultural and demographic background.

I think what makes the Canadian poetry world special is that it is wildly diverse and varied. Poets across the country are working in so many different styles and are bringing a vast array of influences and backgrounds into the field of poetry. I also think that with a few exceptions (there are always exceptions!), the community at large is very supportive and welcoming of each other and their different takes on poetry. I think this is great because such acceptance can only lead to a larger discussion on the possibilities of what poetry can be. I see this dialogues happening all the time, all across the country, and it is wonderful to witness to it.

Hazel Millar works with the League of Canadian Poets as the Publicity and Media Manager for National Poetry Month. In her full time job, she is the Publicist and Managing Editor at BookThug. She is also a poetry fangirl. She lives in Toronto with her husband, poet and publisher, Jay MillAr, and their two sons, and a cat named Tess.

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