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National Poetry Month

Poetry Month Q&A: Tanya Davis

With over 4 million YouTube hits, Halifax's Poet Laureate is living proof of how the Internet can bring poetry what it needs most: an audience.

What does your job entail as the Halifax Poet Laureate?
Well, admittedly, it's fairly vague. Basically, my job is to promote poetry, to stand as an ambassador of sorts, to make it more accessible and/or more interesting, to highlight poetry as a means through which citizens can express themselves or perhaps view the city they live in.

As Poet Laureate, how do you plan to encourage and promote the importance of poetry?
I intend to encourage and promote poetry simply by doing poetry. A lot of the poetry I write is for performance, for stage more than page, so it's a very public form of poetry. I've continued doing what I do in my everyday work but, with the Poet Laureate hat on, I've also stepped more into the public eye. I write poems for civic and public occasions. I write and perform poems when newsworthy events are happening in and around our city—for instance, there was a tragic death in our pride community recently, and I wrote and read a poem at the vigil. Aside from taking on the role of spokesperson, or town crier of sorts, and leading by example, I've also put on some public events, workshops, and happenings, to encourage those who don't already write or read poetry that they very well could.

What is it about poetry that compels you as a writer?
I like the lack of rules in it. I like how individualized it can be, how one can find a very unique expression within poetry. Poetry compels me also because it's beautiful, or can be. I use very plain language, because mostly I am looking to communicate something and I want to be accessible when I articulate. I am compelled, in my work and in my life, to connect with others and poetry, to me, is a simple, beautiful means through which to do that. 

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everyday life. Observing things around me. Love. Conundrums. Sadness. Travels. Dancing. Celebration. Ritual. Connection. Isolation. The dichotomies that exist everywhere. Beautiful women. Humans, in general. Really, inspiration is everywhere. There are things to write about every time I blink my eyes.

Who are some of your favourite Canadian poets working today and why?
Sue Goyette, because of the stories she tells and her use of language and the humour she communicates so easily. 
Mary Pinkoski, because of her grace and the way she uses metaphors.
Shauntay Grant, because of the musicality of her voice and her stage presence and her work in the community, an extension of her poetry.

Will the changes we have been seeing in technology and the publishing industry
affect how people consume, or interact with, poetry?
Oh, sure. But hopefully it will change for the better, by bringing more people to poetry. I think lots have been scared off by poetry they were forced to read in high-school English classes. There is enough diversity in poetry to appeal to everyone, but it's often hard to find. Technology can help. I guess I'm thinking more of the Internet here, and how poetry can become videos, can accompany music, can be up on blogs... I'm an eternal optimist, so I can't help but look for the bright side!

What are you reading right now?
I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins
A beautiful poetic memoir novel by my Argentinian friend, Guadalupe Muro (still a manuscript)

What are the biggest challenges that poets in Canada face today?
I think they're not so different than they ever were. Finding time and space to write, finding money to pay the bills with while we write. Finding support to write. All of the challenges revolve around writing. We need patrons. Patrons, you are needed. You are extremely valuable to the arts world, especially as government cutbacks roll out on top of everybody, artists included.

You're a singer-songwriter as well as a poet. How do the two genres feed different parts of you as a writer?
The song-writing and poetry processes definitely influence each other and feed off each other well. It gives me more outlets, more pathways. Plus, I love music, I love to dance, I love to sing and play; that influences the rhythm in my poetry for sure. Words are always at the centre of what I do, whether it's poetry or music, or even theatres (I've been dabbling...) and, so, by having several areas in which to work, my tools as a writer are sharpened, are more playful and less constricted. I don't feel the need to stick to a particular genre or form and I'm grateful for that—it gives me more opportunities and more ideas. Sometimes I say "I'm a writer" when I get the "What do you do?" question, because that's an accurate answer. Often, though, I say "I'm a poet," because that's a beautiful answer.

Tanya Davis is the current Poet Laureate of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her creative collaboration with Andrea Dorfman, the videopoem How to be Alone, has had more than 4 million views on YouTube, garnering Tanya new fans and supporters from the world over. She has penned poems for the Canada Winter Games, the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women, CBC Radio, and the National Film Board of Canada. She also works and performs as a songwriter and musician and has released 3 full-length albums. Her first book of poetry, At first, lonely, was published in 2011 by Acorn Press. 

Read our Q&As with Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Fred Wah, and Vancouver's Poet Laureate, Evelyn Lau  »

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