In search of poetry within Canada I came along an organization called the League of Canadian Poets. My first thought was that a secret society of crime fighting poets had banded together. Sadly I was wrong, but Geist.com met up with Joanna Poblocka and Alice Major (pictured right) to find out what the League is all about and what their thoughts are on Canadian poetry today.
Geist.com: What is the League of Canadian Poets?
Joanna Poblocka: The League of Canadian Poets, a non-profit arts service organization, is the national association of professional publishing and spoken word poets in Canada. Its purpose is to enhance the status of poets and nurture a professional poetic community to facilitate the teaching of Canadian poetry at all levels of education and to develop the audience for poetry by encouraging publication, performance and recognition of Canadian poetry nationally and internationally.
G: What are your goals as an organization?
JP: The LCP’s mandate is to actively promote the works of Canadian poets to the general public and the education system and to encourage talented poets in their creative endeavours; and in furtherance of such objects, the LCP aspires to: Develop the art of poetry; Enhance the status of poets and nurture a professional poetic community; Facilitate the teaching of Canadian poetry at all levels of education; Enlarge the audience for poetry by encouraging publication, performance and recognition of Canadian poetry nationally and internationally, and uphold freedom of expression. In doing so, the League declares its support for freedom of expression and for all human rights and its abhorrence of racial, economic, sexual, religious, and other prejudicial forms of discrimination.
G: What does your organization do to help out Canadian poets?
PB: As well as providing members and the public with many benefits and services, the League speaks for poets on many issues such as freedom of expression, Public Lending Right, Access Copyright, contract advice and grievance. We are actively involved with other arts and literary organizations in discussion with government bodies on matters that affect writers. Through our monthly e-newsletter, we keep members informed of matters both political and professional and provide a common voice for collective response to important issues.
G: What programs do you have set up for youth?
PB: The LCP has many youth programmes: The youngpoets.ca website is an extremely popular place for youth. The LCP staff has been working with our English and French website editors to expand the website’s programming. The most popular pages are the quarterly E-zine (on-line magazine) where the LCP publishes poetry by youth. The other page is the forums, a message board where youth can talk to each other, and seek advice on writing. The forum has moderators, more established poets who help out and answer any questions they may have.
The LCP also runs a poetry contest for youth (Poetic Licence Contest), which is open to all youth in grades 7-9, and 10-12. There are two categories, senior and junior, and there are three winners in each category. There is a small cash prize awarded, as well as a student membership at the LCP, and poetry books.
Inspiring and educating young people with poetry remains a high priority for the League of Canadian Poets. We have been working with the Ontario Trillium Foundation on a Poetry Workshop project that allows us to connect local poets in Toronto, Ottawa and Sudbury with young people facing challenging social and financial circumstances. The workshops took place in three parts of Ontario with three different organizations: Sketch in Toronto, Myths and Mirrors Community Arts in Sudbury, Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa.
G: What do you think of the current state of Canadian poetry?
Alice Major: What's the state of Canadian poetry these days? I'd say that one indication is a manuscript contest that I recently helped judge for Calgary's Frontenac Press. For one thing, there are lots of poets around. Two hundred and fifty manuscripts were submitted; that's 250 people who were willing to put in the work required to produce a full-length collection of poetry. In the 50 long-listed books, the overall quality was really quite high – there was genuinely competent poetry in all of them, and wonderful stuff in quite a few. The range was quite varied – a good deal of lyric, a substantial amount of experimental stuff, and a fair bit of poetry-from-the-margins, with voices from immigrants and other minorities. There were a substantial number of manuscripts tied together as unified long works, either by narrative or by theme. Among all the free verse there was also a noticeable re-emergence of more rigorous forms – altered sonnets, glosas and such.
I think those trends would characterize the state of 'page' poetry in general. The other trend that I notice is an increasing emphasis on poetry performance, evidenced by the spread of poetry festivals and slam teams across the country. Of course, poetry is as hard to sell as ever. Audiences turn out to hear poetry but seldom buy the book or the CD. I don't know the stats for certain, but I think the average sale of a poetry book is still only two or three hundred copies. On the other hand, if 200 books sell 200 copies each, that's 40,000 poetry books sold in Canada every year – not an inconsequential number. There's a lot of energy in the field.
Joanna Poblocka is the Executive Director of the League of Canadian Poets and Alice Major (uppermost right picture) has published eight collections of poetry and a novel for young adults, and served as the first poet laureate for the city of Edmonton from 2005-2007.