Regina poet dreams of showcasing ethnically diverse Prairie authors in regional archive

The Regina Public Library Writer-in-Residence dreams of creating space — physical or virtual — to house works by Prairie poets who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour.

Goal is to connect community with ethnically diverse literature and authors

Canadian poet Neil Aitken dreams of establishing a prairie-based archive showcasing poets of different ethnicities in Saskatchewan. (Neil Aitken)

The Regina Public Library Writer-in-Residence dreams of creating space — physical or virtual — to house works by Prairie poets who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC).

Neil Aitken, a Canadian poet with Scottish and Chinese roots, wants to use his publishing networks to connect people with books and authors they may not know about, but said it would require community collaboration.

"A BIPOC archive of some sort, I think would be a wonderful idea. But maybe so broadly defined that It would require the collaboration of multiple, multiple organizations to actually do it right," said Aitken. "It's always about real estate. It's like, where, where can you, how's it? And what does that look like?"

He said creating this collection of contemporary Canadian poetry is important because many of these works are being lost with the closure of small presses. Public libraries aren't able to keep up with these types of works due to financial and physical constraints, and lack of popular demand.

Aitken, who has a doctorate in American contemporary poetry, started collecting single-author poetry books in 1995. Today he has 923, filling most of his bookshelf. Although most of his collection is made up of American poets, he has focused on acquiring more Canadian contemporary poets since he returned to Canada three years ago.

His personal library got him thinking about community projects, like his proposed Prairie regional archive for BIPOC authors. He got experience with similar literary projects while working on his graduate studies in the United States. That library, which contained 500 to 600 books by writers of colour, operated for a couple of years.

"We had had an event space that people come to, and hang out and just read books. We've run workshops in that space as well," said Aitken.

Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Carol Rose GoldenEagle loves the idea.

"I think it would change everything," she said. "It's just nobody's done it so far [on that scale] for the province or the Prairies."

Essential Ingredients is a poetry collection by Carol Rose GoldenEagle. (Inanna Publications)

GoldenEagle said the appetite for BIPOC authors has grown in recent years. She compares that growth to people's willingness to branch out to new cuisines. 

"Maybe 50 years ago, in Saskatchewan, there was rarely the opportunity to have any type of ethnic food, or anything that was sort of out of the ordinary, so to speak. And, you introduce new voices, new points of view, new ways of thinking in terms of poetry. I think there would be a lot of interest in it," said GoldenEagle.

She is hopeful that it would spark more people to write.

"Maybe that's one of the things I should work toward, as a poet laureate, is try to get new and emerging voices, more diverse people in the community to, to write their experiences, their memories, their feelings," she said.

In the past year, Aitken has become aware of some other groups working on similar types of projects. GoldenEagle pointed to the recently created Saskatoon Indigenous Poetry Society as one example. 

Aitken doesn't have a timeline for this regional poetry archive, but he remains hopeful that he will find community partners for this project.

"You never know, when you're going to have a conversation with someone who shares the same vision and says, 'How can I provide you with this?'" he said.