Tofino’s arts community is celebrating a changing of the guard as the town has appointed a new Poet Laureate.
Revered local scribe Joanna Streetly became the town’s first-ever Poet Laureate in 2018 after Tofino’s municipal council established the position at the behest of the Clayoquot Writers Group and, with her two-year term at an end, she has handed the prestigious reins over to Christine Lowther.
“It is hard to believe that two years is already over, but here we are,” said mayor Josie Osborne during council’s May 12 regular meeting where Lowther’s appointment was unanimously approved.
Osborne said the district would pen a letter to Streetly to express “our sincere appreciation for everything that she did” as the town’s first Poet Laureate.
“Life would be a very dull shade of grey if we didn’t have the kinds of contributions that we have from the writers and the authors and the people in this community who contribute so much to the way our community is so full of culture and so vibrant,” Osborne said. “I think that the establishment of the Tofino Poet Laureate program really is a singular accomplishment of a tiny little town like Tofino and it’s something we should be incredibly proud of.”
The district supports the Poet Laureate program by covering 50 per cent of the costs, offering up to $2,500 of matching funds to supplement money fundraised within the community.
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Osborne said Streetly’s tenure covered a wide range of issues and brought “a lens to community life” in a way that council meetings and public open houses never could.
“Her poetry is a form of expression, I think, that really helps us reflect a little bit differently,” she said.
She added she is excited to see how Lowther makes her mark on the program.
“One of the best things I think I’ve read in a description about Christine, is that her poems come from the edges of polite society. So, I really look forward to seeing what Christine brings in her term,” she said.
Lowther was the unanimous choice of the Tofino Poet Laureate Working Group to succeed Streetly and her term will run from May 2020 to April 2022.
She told the Westerly News she was excited and grateful to be appointed.
“It’s very encouraging and it’s motivating and that’s the greatest gift any writer can receive,” Lowther said.
She noted she has worked at Tofino’s public library since 2005 and has had a first row seat to a concerning lack of local poetry consumption that she hopes to reverse.
“Mostly, what I’m really hoping for is to increase the number of poetry readers in Tofino. I would like it if more people read poetry and, building on that, I would like people to read more Canadian poetry and, building on that, I would like people to read more Indigenous Canadian poetry,” she said. “You can read a poem and have your head blown off, in a good way. And, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want to live as many peak experiences as we can and really feel alive?”
She said her predecessor left a tough act to follow and added she has long been a fan of Streetly’s work.
“It’s a bit daunting, to be honest,” she said, adding she hopes her impact on the position will be, “not respectable, but vivacious.”
“Joanna is an extremely hard act to follow. She’s everything I’m not. She’s got social graces and social skills. She’s a functional adult,” Lowther laughed.
She acknowledged Osborne’s words about her work being nestled around “the edges of polite society” and said her nature is to question.
“A little bit of rebellion has always been a good thing,” she said. “I question authority, yes, and I question the mainstream. I like to look at alternatives. I don’t think the planet is in a good place. Everything that we’re doing now for COVID-19 we should have been doing for climate.”
A strong advocate for trees and forests, Lowther helped relaunch the Tofino Natural Heritage Society in 2019 and the group’s advocacy has since become a fixture on council agendas and at public meetings.
She arrived in Tofino in 1992 to participate in the Clayoquot Sound logging blockades and found a community of not only beautiful trees to protect, but passionate people to fight alongside.
“I didn’t come here to live here. I came here to get arrested on the blockades, which I did…What keeps me here is the forest. There is extremely little undisturbed ancient temperate rainforest left anywhere.” Lowther said.
“If you stand in Tofino on the dock and you look out over the harbour and at the mountains, that view is still so rare because there’s hardly any clearcuts to be seen…If it wasn’t for the blockades, our view would be like everywhere else; greened-over clearcut and second growth.”
She expressed gratitude for all the creative minds that helped launch the Tofino Poet Laureate program and keep it going.
“Every place should have one. Poetry should be way more a part of the fabric of this country,” she said.
“For some reason, we’ve lost that connection, maybe because of T.V., video games and all the screens, but other places still have that connection and we can get it back and I think we are getting it back.”
More information about the Poet Laureate program can be found at tofinopoetlaureate.ca.