Par­lia­ment’s poet lau­re­ate

Ge­orge El­liott Clarke is a fan of lo­cal MP’s work.

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CAPE BRE­TON POST STAFF news@cb­

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.


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