Nova Scotia

George Elliott Clarke named Canada's new parliamentary poet laureate

George Elliott Clarke, a native of Windsor, N.S., has been appointed Canada's new parliamentary poet laureate.

Clarke is an officer of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada

Poet and playwright George Elliott Clarke has been appointed Canada's new parliamentary poet laureate. (Carmelita Linta)

George Elliott Clarke, a native of Windsor, N.S., has been appointed Canada's new parliamentary poet laureate.

He is the seventh person to hold the position. The appointment was made by Senate Speaker George Furey and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Geoff Regan. 

"Holy smokes, great. I was delighted to know that I had been nominated," Clarke said over the phone Tuesday night.

Clarke says he was advised that he was being considered for the role about three weeks ago.

"Nothing was official until the announcement was made, so I've been trying to keep it a secret and waiting and hoping and praying that they would in fact appoint me," he said. 

Clarke says he's "humbled and honoured" to represent the people of Canada.

"Right now I'm thinking of it as being the people's poet laureate of Canada," said Clarke.

Raising the profile

"I look forward to trying to extend the example of my predecessors in reaching out to Canadians from coast to coast to coast to coast because we have four, there's also the Great Lakes along with the Arctic," he said.

Clarke says he's primarily an English speaker, but that he will do his best to reach out to Francophones, as well as to poets from third language communities and indigenous communities.

He says he wants to raise the profile of the poet laureate position so others can aspire to it. Clarke says he would like to canvass MPs and senators to identify poems in their constituencies that should be made better known to the public.

"I'd like to have a website perhaps or a poetry map of Canada where those poets and their poems would appear. That would be a great way in my opinion, presuming we have the resources to make it happen, to remind everybody that Canadians have a wealth of poets," he said.

Clarke says one of the requirements of his position is that he may be called on to write poetry for state occasions, including royal visits.

"Wow, I just realized. I just thought of it now. The 150th anniversary of Confederation is coming up under my watch. This is great," he said.

"I better start thinking about rhymes immediately before 2017 rolls around too quickly and I'm put on the spot," Clarke said.

Talent 'undeniable'

Clarke is an officer of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada. Born in 1960, he is a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi'kmaq heritage. 

He's received the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Awards' Gold Medal for Poetry, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. 

Clarke recently finished a three-year term as Toronto's poet laureate.

"His talent as poet, playwright and literary critic is undeniable," Regan said in the statement. "He is an immensely versatile and engaging writer and will bring great honour to the position."

The role of the parliamentary poet laureate is to promote the importance of poetry, literature, culture and language in Canada. Poets laureate write poetry for important occasions and sponsor readings.

Clarke will receive a stipend of $20,000 a year, $13,000 for travel and a budget for other expenses.

In this position, Clarke reports to the Library of Parliament. He succeeds Michel Pleau, who held the position for two years.