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Tofino Poet Laureate urges West Coast to engage with reading

Tofino’s Poet Laureate Christine Lowther hopes West Coasters pick up a poetry book this holiday season. (Westerly file photo)


Tofino Poet Laureate


Waiting in the Tofino post office queue again, we find ourselves talking about conspiracy theories, covid vaccines, missing our families. What if instead, we were to speak of a poem that gave us goosebumps? That made us feel deeply alive for a moment? That made us forget about the pandemic even briefly. This is a long line-up, but “Let me tell you about the stanza, the line that lifted me clean out of my isolation.” Right?

There are countries that enjoy poetry every bit as much as fiction and film. Why not try reading some? I know I’m making assumptions here, but I work at the library, and I see which section of the stacks gathers the most dust. The 819s. Now you know the dewey decimal number for poetry in the library. You need not even ask! Why not take home a poetry book? Eve Joseph, Patricia Young, Kate Braid, Ecko Aleck. #islandpoets

Why not check out an Indigenous poet? A new young sensation causing a stir among contest judges, at a centre of learning or just living and writing. Billy-Ray Belcourt, Joshua Whitehead, Jordan Abel, Gwen Benaway.

Who knew? So many established Indigenous poetic voices. Gregory Scofield (read at Middle Beach Lodge once) Kinnie Starr (writes her songs and played the West Coast plenty) Rosanna Deerchild, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Lisa Bird-Wilson, Joanne Arnott, Janet Marie Rogers…The list goes on.

As you may have guessed, I’m hoping to encourage Tofinians, Uclueletians and the surrounding First Nations to read some poems during my tenure as Poet Laureate of Tofino. I’m not asking you to write a poem, or even a verse (maybe a line, though). I’m not insisting you dig out those old drafts from the metazoic era for an attempted re-boot. The reading has to come first. Otherwise, we won’t know what has already been said. We won’t know that this cute metaphor we just dreamed up is a cliché. It can be fun to write poetry so yes, go for it! But to place our hands on a collection of poems, lift it off the shelf and take it with us? Bring it to our favourite chair with the novel we’ll be reading, add hot tea, cold beer or room temperature wine? Yes please. Read the first poem. There. Now read your novel.

Let’s focus on Canadian poetry because so much of our popular culture is influenced (or replaced!) by … that other place. All of the poets I’ve named so far are from north of the border. I’m no flag-waving patriot but I do prefer to steer our attention away from countries so used to the spotlight. (Except for the late Mary Oliver, an American nature poet highly available both in the library system and at Mermaid Tales Bookshop. We need a Canadian Mary Oliver. Pamela Porter might be her.)

Remember that saying, Women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good? I think Canadian poets are like that. We have to produce super-brainiac writing to be remembered or thought of by the rest of the world. Consequently, what we have are a lot of intellectual geniuses as poets. I don’t know about you but I don’t like feeling stupid. There are times when I’ve given up on poetry, but I always end up falling in love with it again. I must be reading the right poet or poem or verse or line at the right time. From that point on I am voracious again, but you don’t have to be.

Another thing I see through my library position is how people love mysteries. How about the mystery of poetic composition? Or the mystery of what the heck certain poems are supposedly getting at? To dig into these enigmas, I might pick up A Magical Clockwork: the Art of Writing the Poem, by Susan Ioannou. I might peruse Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder. Why do so many folks avoid or even “hate” poetry? I might seek the answer in The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner (but he’s American…) Any of these could increase our enjoyment of reading poems.

If we don’t care for a particular novel, we put it back on the shelf. We don’t say “I don’t understand novels” or “I don’t like novels.” We keep looking until we find a novel we like. It should be the same for poetry books.

What is your favourite thing ever? Surfing? Darts? Knitting? Bingo? Google “bingo poems.” Bring one to the post office queue!

Christine Lowther is Tofino’s Poet Laureate.

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