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How a Poet Laureate Deepens the World

Wakan in front of sculpture by Nancy Crozier
Naomi Beth Wakan became the Inaugural Poet Laureate of Nanaimo three years ago. Wise, educated and with undeniable charm she won over the cold hard politics of city folk in a neoliberal economy. She has managed to unite the practical with the arts, offering a deeper expression of humanity.

Among Naomi's achievements are a high school poetry competition, a Nanaimo Poetry Map and Poetry in Transit. “So many people have told me how they have enjoyed reading the poetry while on the buses, and that involved a new bunch of poets too,” said Wakan. “I love to see people coming out who weren’t actually part of the poetry scene before, having the confidence to join the poetry gang and see themselves published.” (reported by Rachel Stern, Nanaimo News Bulletin, December 28)

A hundred people attended the December celebration honouring Wakan’s contribution. Many supporters of the arts listened, wrote and read testimonials that day. 

The arts are rarely given a million dollars whereas wars are purchased with trillions. Might this spell danger for life on this planet? Big questions like this can only be answered by fools and prophets.

Poetry is more than an important art form in today’s society. It is a renewable source of energy. To the point, economical and metaphorical, it begs us to think about the lives we live and what it means to be human in an age besotted with technology and money.

Poetry also offers ideals and reality within the same conversation by recording the unremarkable observations that many have been led to believe, are not important.

“For it can condense matter, / distill the essence, / purify the messy, / congeal the scattered. / Each word of a poem / can carry the weight, /of the universe within it” writes Wakan in her latest book, Bent Arm for a Pillow.

This brief observation gives me great comfort when against all the news of the day,  I need to be reminded of what I can do that will have meaning.

Wakan holds no grandiose conceit about her work. She may be exhausted before the end of the day in her 85th year, but understands that what we give is made up of what we get. In a poem from the same book she reflects on the power of words “It’s on their coattails that I ride, / and the journey fills my own pages / with a voice barely my own, / a poetry mid-wifed and nourished, / by a line of ghosts.”

The poet, like the wind or the click of a humming bird, becomes the voice of nature, as one among many voices. She came, she saw, she wrote! Surely we need more poets than conquerors.

The poet doesn’t want to manipulate organic forms for profit - she just wants nature to be itself. “We read to remind ourselves / that we already know / how life should best be lived, / but that we have,  for a moment, / forgotten.”

Of course, this kind of philosophy won’t sell pharmaceuticals or bombs, and could be seen as dangerous to a ruling ideologue. But hugely inspirational for the harried mind of humans in their rush to get through their days.


  1. Thanks for this post - a sign of health in the community!

  2. Yes we must keep writing and sharing our stories. Thanks Bob.


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