Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate heads north

Even the most successful writers lean on the experience of others when researching an unfamiliar topic.

Even the most successful writers lean on the experience of others when researching an unfamiliar topic.

Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate is no exception.

George Elliott Clarke has never been to the North. But ahead of his first visit this week he wrote a poem about the territory.

Clarke, originally from Windsor, Nova Scotia, said he grew up with popular cultural images of the Gold Rush and the Klondike, along with many books by Pierre Burton. He’s thought about the territory’s resources and its colourful population.

For his latest poem, Yukon/Utopia, he says he was most influenced by the work of Robert Service.

“(It’s) the magic of poetry, or to be more precise, the magic of all those poets who have been to the Yukon and lived there and written about it.”

The Yukon’s resources, wildlife and weather all make an appearance in Clarke’s creation.

While it may be based on research rather than experience, the prose was not crafted by a layman’s pen.

Clarke is Parliament’s seventh poet laureate. His work has won a stream of national awards. He has been named to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada and has been given eight honorary doctorates.

His recent writing as poet laureate includes poems following the deaths of Leonard Cohen and Fidel Castro. He’s also tackled the Canadian senate.

Clarke is in Whitehorse this week as part of the Northern Lights Writers’ Conference from Nov. 20 to 22.

“I love books, I love people who make books, so it makes me really happy to see things like this come to life,” said organizer Lily Quan.

Clarke will be reading his Yukon poem for the first time on Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Local students will also read poems of their own.

He’s running an advanced poetry workshop on Saturday morning and performing at events Friday and Saturday evening.

Friday night’s event at Baked Cafe is a wine night where local writers and conference attendees, including Clarke, will perform.

Like a good meal, each writer has been paired with a wine recommendation for the audience.

Clarke is a spicy zinfandel, said Jeremie Matrishon, who runs Whitehorse’s Corked and picked the wines.

“Basically, for me, he’s just that red wine that’s spicy and full bodied. He’s spicy.”

Other events over the weekend include a beginner’s workshop on writing creative nonfiction run by awarding-winning author Andrew Westoll and a seminar offering tips for writers doing their taxes this season.

Writers looking for representation can attend a workshop by agent Martha Webb who will be discussing how to write effective pitches.

Webb, who represents authors such as Michael Crummey, Nino Ricci and Jessica Grant, will also be holding 15-minute pitch sessions at Yukon College on Sunday morning.

“What I’m happy about is that it contributes to the community,” Quan said. “People wanted to meet one-on-one with an agent, Martha’s taking new clients. It’s win-win.”

Writing, including poetry, is an indicator of the intellectual health of society, Clarke said.

“You’ve got to think with language, you can’t think without it,” he said. “There’s instinct, but if you’re going to do anything beyond instinct you need to be able to think and that means having clear, reliable, picturesque language.”

Society’s current intellectual health “can be improved,” he said.

Clarke points to marginalized youth turning to mediums like rap or spoken word poetry as a positive step.

“I’m thinking of Indigenous populations where hip hop and rap has been very influential in inspiring youth especially to compose their own rhymes and songs about their particular situations,” he said.

“To speak back to mainstream society that often has turned a deaf ear.”

At the same time there has been a disappearance of poetry from public spaces, he said.

“I’m thinking of newspapers especially, and newspaper reviews of poetry, which essentially evaporated with the disappearance I suppose of enough advertising from publishers to make it seem worthwhile.”

In that spirit, Clarke’s full poem is included with this article.

The full schedule of the conference, including details on any costs associated with the events, is available at firstdraftwhitehorse.wordpress.com.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen

xx
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for April 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

Most Read