Canada has a new poet laureate

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george-elliott-clarkeIt was announced earlier in the week that Nova Scotia poet George Elliott Clarke has been appointed to the position of Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Clarke has been a force in Canadian poetry for quite a while now, and has obtained some notable honours, which include the William P. Hubbard Award reflecting his long contribution to race relations in Toronto, The Archibald Lampman Award, and the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his collection Execution Poems. He’s also an Officer of the Order of Canada. I’m personally very pleased with the selection of Clarke to fulfill this official role.

I find it interesting that the position of poet laureate is a relatively new one for Canada. Of course, the United Kingdom is known for the title, having officially created the position in 1668 with the appointment of John Dryden as the first. The United States has had a national poet since 1937 with the appointment of Joseph Auslander. Canada has been behind the times in that our country waited until 2001 to create the position, even though there have been numerous poets of great quality and insight throughout our history. George Bowering, one of my favourite poets, was our first and there have been six others since, alternating between English and French language writers.

It brings a certain official recognition to the work of these poets and to poetry in general, which is to be lauded. I look forward to reading more of Clarke’s work in the future.

New On The Bookshelf: Solie and Paré

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IMG_20150824_183504On a recent trip to the big city, I stopped into the local Chapters and made two purchases. I’m a little slow getting to both of these, but late is better than never. At this point I have quite a bit of catch-up to play in terms of Canadian poetry over the last year or two, but the fact is that this is less a challenge and more an excuse to get back into reading more of what I enjoy. It’s strange how life’s “things” get in the way so often.

The first collection of poems is from Karen Solie, The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out, her first since winning the Griffin Poetry Prize with Pigeon back in 2010. Solie has quickly become one of my favourite poets, and I’m eager to get my teeth into her latest book. I’m drawn to her use of imagery, the crisp description she provides, and the mental linkages she makes within poems.

The second book is Lake of Two Mountains by Arleen Paré, a poet who recently won the Govern General’s Award for poetry, which is no small feat. I read at an event arranged by Breakwater Books back in April, where Paré read from this collection. It was a delightful thing to hear her, the engagement she has with the natural world, her sewing together of person and place. I could not resist picking up the book to explore in greater detail.

Public Art and Urban Economic Growth

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Art is one of those things that many people consider vital to a good quality of life. It allows us to reflect upon our hopes, ambitions, passions, and to learn from our negative qualities and mistakes for the improvement of the individual and society. Aesthetics, that branch of philosophy that focuses on art and questions of its appreciation and benefits, has long been discussed in terms of cultural impacts on communities, but there’s a growing movement towards employing aesthetics for the purpose of achieving economic goals.

New Geography has an article up that considers this shift in focus. The world is more and more becoming deeply reliant on a model of limitless economic growth, but many cities struggle with poverty and negative feedback loops that perpetuate this issue. Interestingly enough, the idea of The City Beautiful, or using aesthetic principles in urban development, was seen historically as a way to “raise” the impoverished in character, attitude, and usefulness to be contributing members of the community.

For instance, the early 20th-century upper crust framed the conditions of poverty this way: the deprived were laggards on the evolution toward modernity, and they needed aesthetic inspiration. So arose the City Beautiful Movement, whose premise, according to Julie Rose at the University of Virginia, “was the idea that beauty could be an effective social control device”.

Put simply, outside pretty would arouse inside pretty, inspiring civic loyalty and morality in the impoverished.

Ignoring the obvious issue of the perceptions of others based on social and economic class, this policy does, at least, promote art as a socially and culturally relevant and powerful part of human existence. More recently, however, the drive has been on drawing the creative class into impoverished areas (to suffer through harshness and therefore fuel the creative fires), making these areas eventual centres for the edgy, “hip and cool” population and increasing people’s desires to live in an place that exhibits the benefits of modern aesthetics and beautification through public art: economic development through increased reliance on a creative and artistic class among young urban dwellers. The new City Beautiful, as it were.

The article is well worth a read, especially for those interested in urbanization or the arts.

Biological Effects of Reading

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Reading is a worthwhile pursuit in a number of ways; whether one is gaining new knowledge or being entertained by rich description, or engaging plots, books can help alter our perspectives and improve our lives. Any reader can list such benefits, but as we know the world of science often needs to weigh in on a topic to quantify the positives and make us all certain that what we love to do by impulse or feeling is indeed have a basis in rationality. Emory University, out of Atlanta, has recently completed a study that assesses the effects of reading on the brain, including suggested long term benefits. There are apparently physical impressions made on the body when one reads a novel and is “transported into another world”. The Atlantic has a piece on this, which you an access here.

Holiday Reading Material

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The holiday period has been pretty good to me in terms of reading material for the next little while. I usually receive an assortment of books, usually more than I have the time to get to, but I never consider this a negative. At some point I’ll get to them when I get some down time later in the year.

This year the number of books was somewhat lower, but I’m happy with those I did acquire. Mary Dalton’s latest, Hooking, is a book I’ve wanted ever since it was released earlier in the year. Dalton uses a mash-up type approach to writing poems in this collection, writing centos or “patchwork” pieces that borrow lines from other authors and combine them to produce new poems. Alice Oswald’s Memorial is another book of poems I’ve wanted for a while, but only now can say is in my possession. It is a modern take on aspects of Homer’s Iliad. I also now have William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a book written by Ian Doescher, a book that retells the Star Wars (Verily a New Hope) in Shakespearean form, complete with couplets (win!).

StillnessandspeedBesides poetry, I’ve received Stats Canada: Satire on a National Scale, which is of course based on the popular twitter parody account. I’ve followed @stats_canada for a while now and never get tired of the quips and steady, if somewhat stereotypical, humour. The last book I’ve recently gotten and the first I’ve started reading is Stillness and Speed: My Story, a biography of Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch soccer legend who played for Arsenal Football club. Bergkamp’s career is before my time as a fan, but to learn more about the man and his own perspectives on football, coaching, and his career will be fascinating.

Hope your holiday season has been and continues to be enjoyable.