In her message for World Poetry Day, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO states, “Poetry is one of the purest expressions of linguistic freedom. It is a component of the identity of peoples and it embodies the creative energy of culture, for it can be continuously renewed.”
In celebration of World Poetry Day, we are completely honoured to share with you, “The Language of Poetry” by Bruce Meyer, Poet Laureate for the City of Barrie.
Bruce Meyer is the inaugural Poet Laureate of the City of Barrie and Professor of English at Georgian College. He is the author of 34 books of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, literary journalism, and pedagogy. His broadcasts on the Great Books for CBC Radio One are the network’s bestselling spoken word cd series.
It is with joy that we share with you our poet laureate’s beautiful words, written for Sunday Crush on the occasion of World Poetry Day. We invite you to further read his reflections on his role as City of Barrie Poet Laureate, on celebrating poetry and literature in our community and on the beauty of this wonderful region we live in.
The Purpose of Public Poetry
As the inaugural Poet Laureate of the City of Barrie, I am delighted when I am asked to write poems for special occasions. I have written about the Barrie Farmer’s Market and read that poem to shoppers as they picked over the best of the fall apple harvest. I wrote one for a concert of seniors who were playing Christmas carols in the City Hall Rotunda. I have recently written one for a charity dinner where the Mayor was celebrated to raise funds for a community of special needs adults, and another I have just completed to welcome the city’s first female Chief of Police. These are records of moments when we are simply living our lives in the collective spirit of citizens who are sharing the delight of their lives together in the same time and place.
Poems, by their very nature, should make the transitory permanent; they should record and, if called upon, celebrate what it is they have to express. I look around my city and around Simcoe County, and I see so much that we have to celebrate.
What I am realizing is that as a literary entity, Barrie and Simcoe County are just now getting around to recognizing what we have and how rich it is. I have the feeling every day that I live in a little piece of God’s country and I think I owe it to those around me to tell them how lucky they are to be here. Poetry should open people’s eyes to what is around them.
Across the street from my home is the city’s botanical garden, Sunnidale Park. In the winter, I watch as cross-country skiers traverse the trails that have been cut between the trees and plantings, and in the summer I witness couples pledge their vows among the beds of bright flowers. Poetry should be like those vows or those ski trails: it should join people and things together, connect one point of interest or an event to another, and lead us somewhere or to some lasting recognition of how important every moment in our lives can be. The best poetry, whether happy or sad, is driven by a profound sense of love. Barrie is a city that is still growing into its artistic potential and the consciousness that goes with it. If my writing of poetry can do anything, I hope it would be to point out to readers not only the depth, mystery, and power of the place we live in but the way we connect with each other in that place and what binds us together, like a vow, as we share our moments in time together.
Poetry should also be a public statement. A poem stuffed in a bottom drawer or scrawled in the unopened pages of a diary doesn’t do anyone any good. It becomes a lost statement, a wasted breath…a personal document, yes, but an unfulfilled expression of what deserves to have a life of its own beyond the page. When a poem needs to be written, it calls itself into being through the skills of the person who wrote it. Poems want to be born. They want to live. They want to spread their wings and enter the world. If they are strong enough to be heard by the ever-tuned ear of a poet, then they deserve a life of their own. To be asked to listen for a poem by one’s community is a great honor not only to poet but to the poem. The vox populi has said to an idea “please live here. We want you.” That’s where public poetry comes into play. Public poetry is poetry that wants to be shared, that wants to be heard, and that wants to have a life of its own.
Practicing poets will know that public poems, those that are requested by the poet’s community, are often different from the poems that want to come into the world as something personal for the poet. Public poetry has to address the many rather than the few. For the art’s sake, this is something that is extremely important because the often personal purpose of poetry can blunt the art as something that can be shared by the many — and the more people that share in the art of poetry, the more the art thrives. Poetry is like a group cheer. It gains strength the more people participate in the process.
Many years ago, the League of Canadian Poets (an association of which I am a long-standing member) distributed window stickers that read “Poetry Spoken Here.” I think that is a declaration that we have to make here in Barrie and Simcoe County. The poetry that results from public dialogue and discussion may not be personal poetry but it is very important. This kind of public expression is known in the world of poets as “Occasional Poetry,” poetry that is called into the world not only by the poem itself but by a social spirit that wants to create discussion and dialogue. Occasional poetry speaks to the moment; but my view is that it should also be akin to those still life paintings crafted by artists such as Vermeer who show us our moments of existence and record the details of our lives not as overwhelming monuments to great events but as whispers of the minute glances and small passions that comprise the memory of our all-too-brief moments in this life. Look at a Vermeer painting. A woman is playing a harpsichord or standing beside a window to read a letter in the flood of light as it enters the room. That’s what true occasional poetry, public poetry, should do. It should be a kind of light that enters into those unassuming moments of our days and bathes us in the recognition that for a brief moment we are who we are as we are caught unawares of ourselves in the process of doing the things we do in order to live our lives. It should capture us in that instant when we look up and out from the frame around us, and are caught in the overlooked dignity that life asks of us.
In more poetry news, April is National Poetry month and one way you may want to participate is by attending the L3 Writers Conference on April 18 at Barrie North Collegiate. Bruce is an advisor to the writers conference; a fantastic literary event for high school students during the day and in the evening the doors open at 7:00 pm, inviting the public to listen to some of Canada’s finest authors, poets, novelists, journalists and activists. Click here to see the awesome list of presenters at this year’s conference.
from the blog SUNDAY CRUSH