Thursday, September 22, 2011

Open Letter to Mayor Fortin: Expand Poet Laureate Criteria

Jan 2012 - The City of Victoria has chosen the esteemed Janet Rogers as the new Poet Laureate. Check her out (she's a spoken word artist!):

Oct 2011 - Thanks to the public support to expand the Poet Laureate program, the City of Victoria will be looking at a review of the program in thew new year. I'll keep you posted!

Original Post - Is poetry more than just page poems?

I've written a letter to Mayor and Council asking them to expand their criteria to include all the poets working in our community. If you agree, please sign the petition:

September 22, 2011

Dear Mayor and Council,

As delighted as I am that Victoria is once again seeking a Poet Laureate, I respectfully recommend that you broaden your eligibility criteria in order to include all the poets working in your city.

The world has changed since the Poet Laureate program was first launched in 2006 – iPhones now allow users to carry HD cameras in their pockets, and the rise of social media has made online promotion vital. As a practicing spoken word artist I believe your request for “a minimum of two published works (not self published) as well as other publications that display literary excellence” is restrictive and antiquated.

First, this qualification restricts nomination by poets who do not seek publication as their main artistic goal. These poets may instead record albums, engage in public performances or make videos and films of their work. This criteria does not take into consideration the vast array of media a poet can work in today.

I recently attended a talk at TEDxMileZero by Maureen Sawa, CEO of the Greater Victoria Public Library and Poet Laureate program partner, where she described the libraries of the future as multi-media public spaces. Well, if libraries can be more than just books, then poets should be able to do more than print poems.

Second, the specification of ‘non-self-published’ work does not reflect the huge changes within the publishing industry. Publishing houses are failing. And instead, poets are choosing from a variety of publishing options including e-Books, blogs, publish-on-demand and iBookstore to present their work.

For example, local novelist and current Editor of Monday Magazine Grant McKenzie is choosing to self-publish his next novel online. Should our poets be penalized for choosing these new (and environmentally-friendly) publishing formats?

I suggest that you focus instead on the poet’s reputation and work within our community as well the support for their work within the broader artistic community in which they operate. It would also be helpful to broaden the accepted mediums beyond print. This would allow for the inclusion of spoken word artists, performance poets, hiphop artists and other poetic disciplines as well as page poets.

The precedents exist in Canada. The Canada Council for the Arts expanded their spoken word program last year to include both spoken word and literary performance categories. Edmonton’s last Poet Laureate was Roland Pemberton, better known as the hiphop artist Cadence Weapon. He has albums of his work, not books. Calgary is set to name their first Poet Laureate in January and among their contenders are songwriter Kris Demeanor and spoken-word queen Sheri-D Wilson. Nova Scotia former Poet Laureate was recording artist Buck 65, now host on CBC 2. Its current Poet Laureate, Shauntay Grant, boasts only one published work – a children’s book – yet her body of poetic work, including hosting the CBC Poetry Face-Off – speaks volumes.

The precedent exists right here in Victoria too. Last year Monday Magazine included a ‘Favourite Spoken Word Artist’ category for the first time. Last year also saw the first annual and sold-out Victoria Spoken Word Festival, and the year before that Victoria hosted the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word with more than 1,000 in attendance over the week. Clearly, Victoria residents care about poetry – whether it is published or performed.

I encourage the city to broadening the criteria for Poet Laureate to include more artists and better represent the diversity of our community.


Missie Peters
Victoria Slam Master, Tongues of Fire
Artistic Director, Not Your Grandma’s Poetry
Festival Director, Victoria Spoken Word Festival