Albert Dumont named city's English poet laureate

Dumont, who got his start by penning a heartfelt poem to his daughters nearly 30 years ago, calls the appointment “dream come true.” 

Anishinaabe elder got his start with heartfelt poem dedicated to daughters

Anishinaabe elder Albert Dumont of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation has been named the City of Ottawa's next English-language poet laureate. (Jason Pickering)

Nearly three decades ago, Albert Dumont marked five years of sobriety by penning his first poem, The Path My Children Would Travelfor his daughters.

Now, with many more celebrated poems to his name, the Algonquin poet, storyteller and artist has been named the City of Ottawa's next English-language poet laureate, joining French-language laureate Gilles Latour.

"[It's great] just to be acknowledged for the poetry that I have written because I love poetry," Dumont told CBC Radio's All In A Day earlier this week. "To me, poetry is healing."

Dumont said when he decided to write that first poem, he was living an impoverished life, not a poetic one. He had broken his back and could no longer work construction. Instead, he sold T-shirts he designed to pay the bills. 

"It's not like I could afford to take my daughters out for supper or anything," Dumont said. "So I decided to write a poem, and I don't know why I made that choice." 

His daughters took the poem to school, and it eventually found its way to the pages of The Glebe Report, a neighbourhood newspaper in central Ottawa.

Poetry made a mark

That would lead to hundreds more poems, some of which have left lasting impressions on readers, sometimes literally. Dumont recalled one man at a powwow who told him The Path My Children Would Travel had helped him with his own sobriety. The man had even had the cover of the book that the poem appeared in tattooed on his arm. 

"What an honour, you know?" Dumont said.

During his time as poet laureate, Dumont wants to sit down with people experiencing homelessness to document their stories, learn more about the activism happening in Ottawa and promote poetry among young people. 

"Writing poetry, it defines who we are as human beings," he said. 

In a blog post, Dumont said he'll be writing from the perspective of a man in the winter of his life. At age 70, he's now five years older than his father was when he died.

"We hope for a long winter, but you need to try to have more empathy, more understanding, more compassion and to be able to be a better human being," Dumont said. "To be a role model and to be a mentor for the younger people.

"Things are just more beautiful and more grand for somebody in the winter of their time," he said. "I think a poet can express that in a more meaningful way."

Ottawa city council will host a ceremony recognizing the new laureates on April 28.

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