On the Life of a Poet Laureate

September 09, 2015

I never planned on being a poet laureate. In fact, when my name was put forward by a writing group, I was firmly against the idea. I felt several others merited the position more than I, and I felt a little sick in the stomach at the possibility of being in a position so far outside of my comfort zone. Still, the group of writers persisted in the idea and, as I respected them, I allowed the process to proceed and so was given the three-year position.

I suspect poets feel that their regular poetic output would somehow be distracted, maybe even corrupted, by having to write poetry suitable for civic events. That never worried me, for I feel that each poet has but one thing to tell, and whether I was writing about philosophical matters or, as in my case, Nanaimo Bars (the desserts, not the pubs), it didn’t much matter, for I would still want to tell my readers how bittersweet the world is.

Now half-way through my term, I have written patriotically for Canada Day, pastorally for farm- and food-themed events, community-wise for the openings of fairs and new libraries, literally on poetry for book launches and cultural awards occasions. Writing on demand and  for sometimes soon-to-be-happening events – that is, having to write fast – seems to be a spur to my creativity. I often throw my hands up in despair, only to find, after a bit of ranting, that the Muse has dropped me a couple of ideas worth working on, and so I get to work and finish them.

Promoting and supporting young poets has always been a pleasure for me, and so that was naturally an element I added to my job description. Running a monthly poetry column in the Nanaimo Daily News was a way of showing the general public how accessible and meaningful poetry could be and how poetry can actually shift a person’s landscape so their horizons widen and their approach to life is more generous.


Naomi Beth Wakan is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Nanaimo and can be reached at www.naomiwakan.com. Her non-fiction works include Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life (2006) and A Roller-coaster Ride: Thoughts on Aging (2012), among others.


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