Poets laureate compare notes in Halifax

In Halifax this week, rhymers, rappers and writers of verse are attending the first national gathering of the country's poets laureate.
Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon, whose real name is Roland Pemberton, says he's working to build a Canadian cultural renaissance. (Jan-Michael Stasiuk/Pedersen/Canadian Press) (Jan-Michael Stasiuk/Pedersen/Canadian Press)
In Halifax this week, rhymers, rappers and writers of verse are attending the first national gathering of the country's poets laureate.

There are 17 poets laureate in Canada, appointed by municipal, provincial and federal governments  to promote literature and the arts.

The position dates back some 400 years, to the English court of King James the First. A poet laureate was hired to write poems for royal occasions.

But Canada's current day bards bring a decidedly modern perspective to their work.

Roland Pemberton, Canada's youngest poet laureate at 24, is better known as hip-hop artist Cadence Weapon.

Pemberton said his role as Edmonton poet laureate is to promote art in all its forms.

"I've been doing some work with the train station in Edmonton, the LRT, putting some poems into the architectural design," he told CBC News.

"I've been working with the Works Art Society in Edmonton to revitalize downtown, putting some flags up with poetry and artistic images — just trying to add some colour to dirt city."

Pemberton said he believes Canada is on the cusp of an artistic renaissance, and any initiative that promotes artistic endeavours makes life in our cities better.

Shauntay Grant, poet laureate for Halifax, invited fellow poets to the city. (Raul Rincon/Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia)
Shauntay Grant, poet laureate for Halifax, invited her colleagues from across the country to Halifax this week to perform at the jazz festival and compare notes.

"Each municipality, each region, does it differently and has different resources available," she said.

"Generally I think it's great that cities are actually recognizing the value of using artists in their community to advocate for the arts and make the community a little more colourful," she said.

Since the City of Ottawa appointed Canada's first poet laureate in the 1980s, they've spread across the country, from Toronto to Moose Jaw to tiny Cobalt, Ont.

In Cobalt, poet laureate Ann Margetson, 76, ministers to a community of 1,200 people, and sees her role as spreading the love of poetry.

"A poet laureate is a person that tries to promote the lot of art, music, poetry and instill in the hearts of people the importance of listening to and writing poetry and the feeling that you can get from poetry," she said.

"You can make people laugh, you can make people cry, you can comfort someone, you can make them go 'Awww!' If you can do that in the community, be it great or small, then you've achieved something."

While in Halifax, the poets are giving readings on the Dartmouth ferry and performing at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

"People will say, 'We don't need poetry,' but I think we do," Margetson said. "I think any of the poets here would say we need poetry."

With files from CBC's Wendy Martin