Parliament’s poet laureate
George Elliott Clarke is a fan of local MP’s work.
Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate is an admirer of Cape Breton’s parliamentarian poet.
George Elliott Clarke said Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner’s annual Christmas poem in the House of Commons highlights the way words can impact change.
“I’ve heard about his poem but I have not heard his poem, or seen his poem yet,” said Clarke, who was speaking at Cape Breton University on Thursday as part of African Heritage Month. “But I’m really glad that he recognizes the power of verse, especially humorously, to persuade people to accept some ideas or discount other ideas. So it’s a classic use of poetry. I’m really glad he’s doing it. He’s setting a great example for all the other parliamentarians.”
One reason Clarke hasn’t had a chance a chance to catch up on Cuzner’s rhymes may be because he’s been too busy composing his own.
Since lamenting to CBC in the fall about no federal politicians requesting his “poetic services,” the acclaimed poet, novelist and playwright from Windsor, N.S., has been inundated with senators and MPs who want him to pen a verse for them.
Sen. Peter Harder was the first to approach Clarke, asking him to write a poem about senate reform of all things.
“I was like, ‘OK this is kind of an obtuse, abstract subject, and I managed to do it — and I rhymed it,” Clarke, 57, said of his work “The Senate of Canada: An Update-in-Progress,” which Harder read aloud in the red chamber before the holiday break. “It went over pretty well.”
Maybe too well, considering the number of requests that have been steadily coming in since then.
“I’m getting a request about once a week,” he said. “In fact, I have so many accumulated re- quests that the Library of Parliament is reminding me: ‘You have to write this poem for so and so by this date.’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh, right.’”
During his talk, which included readings from his extensive collection of works, Clarke, who is the first black parliamentary poet laureate, emphasized how critical thinking — and writing — are the key weapons of “intellectual combat” in the ongoing struggle for racial equality.
“I think the most import thing about education — higher education — is that you are trained to think,” said Clarke, who is currently a professor of English at the University of Toronto and has lectured and taught at Harvard and Duke universities. “You’re trained to think in a particular way, and that is what you carry forward into whatever profession it is that you want to end up in.”
Meanwhile, when asked if he’d be help Cuzner craft his next poem, Clarke said he’s not sure the Glace Bay politician needs his assistance.
“I’d be worried he’d actually show me what I’m doing wrong,” he said with a laugh.
Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke speaks during a talk at Cape Breton University on Thursday.