Winnipeg's first poet laureate wants to remind people poetry is for everyone

The Winnipeg Arts Council has appointed Di Brandt as the city's first poet laureate.

Di Brandt has published a dozen books and received several literary awards and nominations

Di Brandt was named Winnipeg's first poet laureate by the Winnipeg Arts Council. (Winnipeg Arts Council)

As a child, Winnipeg poet laureate Di Brandt remembers reading poetry to her grandmother at holiday gatherings.

"I grew up in a very poetic family. Poetry is very much a part of my upbringing from when I was very little," she said in a Tuesday interview on CBC Radio's Up to Speed.

Brandt is Winnipeg's first poet laureate, a position created by the Winnipeg Arts Council. The poet laureate serves as an ambassador and promoter of local poetry.

Brandt said the position is an ancient tradition, in which an artist is appointed to represent poetry for a particular region.

"I'm really delighted that Winnipeg has finally got a poet laureate position and it's a very great honour to have been appointed the first one."

Brandt has published a dozen books, with several literary awards and nominations, the arts council said. Her first collection of poetry, questions i asked my mother, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.

The Winnipeg Arts Council, in announcing Brandt's appointment, said the poet laureate will create "new works of poetry reflecting life in the city," and promote poetry in the city through public appearances, creating engagement programs, and facilitating connections between the arts community and the rest of the city.

As part of her role as poet laureate, Brandt says she hopes to remind people that poetry is a fun way of using language and that anyone can do it.

"At Valentine's Day, or you want to send somebody your beautiful birthday greeting, you might buy a poem in a card, but it's still part of the exchange that people do on heightened occasions," she said.

In recent years, however, poetry has become professionalized, she said.

"Now people have become a little more nervous of it and scared of it. But it used to be sort of widely done by everybody. Everybody knew how to make up poems, and I think they still do and still could."

Brandt says being a poet isn't usually presented to young people as a career option, and most people have to find their own way to it.

She says she has had many mentors during her career as a writer, and the arts council says Brandt has done her own share of mentoring beginning writers in the city.

One of Brandt's poems, the nine-part Nine River Ghazals, which was commissioned by the Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival, commemorates The Forks.

You can hear her reading of the first part of the poem at CBC Manitoba's studio below.

Winnipeg poet laureate Di Brandt reads part one her nine-part poem 'Nine River Ghazals', which commemorates The Forks.

With files from Up to Speed