George Elliott Clarke is both honoured and excited to take on his latest adventure as Toronto’s fourth Poet Laureate.
Enthusiastically passionate about the written word, the Upper Beach resident was officially appointed by Toronto City Council for a three-year term as the city’s latest Poet Laureate.
“It’s an interesting appointment. I’m humbled and thrilled to be allowed this opportunity,” he said of his new task to “muse publicly about citizenship, literacy and poetry in everyday life.”
“The job description is beautifully open.”
Clarke, who has lived throughout Toronto over the years but currently resides near Gerrard Street East and Victoria Park Avenue, said he’s honoured to follow in “fantastic footsteps” pointing to previous Poet Laureates Dennis Lee (the first municipal Poet Laureate in Canada), Pier Giorgio di Cicco and Dionne Brand.
A highly decorated Canadian, who holds eight honourary doctorates as well as three university degrees, Clarke was nominated for this prestigious role by a selection committee comprised of Brand, Joanna Poblocka (executive director of the League of Canadian Poets), Lillian Necakov-Avalos (branch head of the Toronto Public Library), Andrew McAlorum (general editor of Canadian Poetry Online) and Marc Glassman (director of This is Not a Reading Series).
During his tenure, Clarke, an associate professor of Canadian and diasporic literature at the University of Toronto (specifically the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature) as well as a poet, dramatist and novelist, said he expects to make at least one or two public appearances each month.
Clarke, the author of at least a dozen poetry books as well as plays, libretti (dramatic musical works), academic essays and a novel, has also been charged with coming up with a legacy project for the people of Toronto.
Appointed to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada, Clarke said he has several ideas in mind to make his mark and “remind people poetry is everywhere” including organizing a public concert featuring poets who are also singers/songwriters, enhancing and revitalizing the TTC’s “Poetry on the Way” program and working to have new city streets names after famed Toronto poets.
Clarke, who was appointed Thursday, Nov. 28, also pointed to working with the organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival and Harbourfront Centre to foster poetry and art in the city. Further, he also said he’d explore opportunities for corporate sponsors as well as those in the Canadian advertising industry to invest and get involved in increasing the visibility of poetry.
“There are so many ways poetry could be more publicly and audibly presented in the eyes and minds of people in Toronto. There are lots of opportunities to incorporate poetry into everyday life, even at city hall,” Clarke said of the “diverse means of communication.”
“I hope to leave behind a legacy that will be inspiring to the people that follow me.”
His predecessors’ contributions include an ambitious program by Lee that saw the 2008 unveiling of a monument of contemporary poet Al Purdy at Queen’s Park. di Ciccio used his role as Port Laureate to influence municipal policy in issues surrounding the urban aesthetic and its relationship to livable and sustainable cities, while Brand’s legacy is the promotion of poetry in the public realm through the website www.poetryispublic.ca as well as the temporary and permanent poetry displays in Toronto Public Library branches.
Clarke, who was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1960 and a seventh generation Canadian of African-American and Mi’kmaq Amerindian heritage, is known for exploring topics of cultural diversity in his works.
“I’m very interested in our progress towards an inclusive and dynamically diverse society,” said Clarke, who was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award in 2004, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship Prize from 2005 to 2008, the Dartmouth Book Award for fiction in 2006 and the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry in 2009.
Further, he’s also been instrumental in promoting the work of writers of African descent through his 2002 book Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature as well as his recently published second volume, Directions Home: Approaches to African-Canadian Literature.
In a recent news release, Ward 37 Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the City’s economic development committee, said Clarke would only “enrich the Poet Laureate position with this many talents and accomplishments.”
“In addition to the accolades he has received as a poet and playwright, his dedication to education and his tremendous support of Canadian writers and the literary community has been nationally recognized by his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada,” Thompson said.