Kris Demeanor brings poetry to the people

First aired on Daybreak Alberta (24/03/12)

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The city of Calgary continues to defy expectations, and its latest cultural coup was the appointment of a poet laureate last month. Calgary poet and musician Kris Demeanor was selected from a shortlist of six poets by the Calgary Arts Development Authority. He will serve a two-year term, and receive an honorarium of $10,000 for his trouble. Demeanor spoke with Russell Bowers on Daybreak Alberta last month about his career so far, and his new post.

Demeanor first had to get creative with language when he was a kid and his art teacher father forbade store-bought cards. "He was very anti-Hallmark," he said. "So every event we had, we had to make our own cards. Every birthday, every holiday -- even Valentine's Day, I had to make individual cards for every kid in my class! But of course over time, I started to add poems to it."

He eventually became the go-to person family members would ask to contribute a song for so-and-so's wedding, or anniversary party, or birthday.

To supplement his writing over the years, Demeanor has worked a lot of "joe jobs," and he's always been fascinated by the people who work alongside him in the city of Calgary, as well as fascinated by the city itself. "The reason I'm still excited about being an artist here is that I'm still consistently fascinated by its contradictions and diversity. I like the fact that it's a city that is still trying to figure out what it is, and is still asking a lot of questions," he said. "I've visited many large cities all over the place, and while I love a city that has found its footing, there's an element of complacency that comes with that, and I don't find that here."

For his tenure as poet laureate, he relishes the opportunity to bring poetry and language to as many people in the city as he can.

"I definitely want to promote [poetry and literacy] as much as I can by being in as many places as I can, and being an active part of as many scenes as possible," Demeanor said. "Part of my goal is seriously to try to find as many fun and creative and interesting ways to get people into the fold of the enjoyment of language. Whether that means travelling to more far-flung parts of the city, or engaging with different communities like youth or recent immigrants to try and solicit poetry from citizens, so that they can start to express themselves."

Demeanor cites a recent example of the emotional impact poetry can have: in Turkey, a poet died recently and people flooded into the streets and recited his poetry. "I know that sounds romantic, but that's a recent example of the way that language can impact people," he said. "I don't think it's trite or cliché to say that poetry should be 'for the people.'"

Ultimately, that's his mandate as poet laureate. "That is the going to be the prime mandate for me, is just to really try to expand the appreciation of language and poetry and make it not seem like a distant and elitist thing -- that's how we express ourselves! It's through language! It's not a big deal, let's enjoy it.