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.

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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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