Sitting down with the six nominees for coveted position

The stage has been set, and the performers have been chosen. Those who applied have been whittled down to six nominees for the position of poet laureate of Calgary. The six nominees are to perform in a showcase of their talent at a Hotel Arts event on March 1. The Calgary Journal spoke with each of the nominees about their poetry, and their nomination for poet laureate.

DANIEL BENNETT A.K.A TRANSIT

At 22, Bennett is the youngest of the poet laureate nominees. He earned his nickname after he stopped a man from committing suicide on the bus in Victoria, B.C., where he grew up. Transit is an indie hip-hop artist that is coordinating multiple programs across the city that work with youth. An ever-present entity on the Calgary indie music scene, Transit released his latest album, “22,” in November.

Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from or your poetry?

Transit: Well, I am obsessed with lyrics and what I aim to do with my music is to have those lyrics that are timeless and say something to evoke emotion and inspire change. You have such power with being an artist.

Q. What would be your plans if you were to be named the poet laureate?

Transit: I started up a program at the Boys and Girls Club for youth ages 12 to 24  Daniel Bennett a.k.a Transit discovered rap in his teen years in victoria as a coping mechanism.
Photo courtesy of: Transit
years, so I teach kids how to rap (and) how to write and so I would definitely carry on with that. Also, I go to schools and kind of summarize the curriculum with students in rap and work with them, and that would be a cool thing to do with the poet laureate. And I think that it would open more doors credibility wise, where people would give you the chance to teach.

Q. What is it about your poetry and style that qualified you to be placed on the short list of the poet laureate?

Transit: Luckily, it’s been a blessing to be an advocate to Calgary arts in the last couple years, and I have really enjoyed being able to speak up about the city. I think that’s part of it but I also think that being something different (from the usual “poets”) — I think that people don’t know that rap means rhythm and poetry. Being a rapper means that we are trying to show the diversity of the city and the diversity of poetry.

Q. Why do you think that Calgary needs a poet laureate?

Transit: Well I think that Calgary has focused a lot on our economy and a lot on our trades and things like Stampede and oil – that’s a great part of our tradition but I feel like we need to focus on culture and on our art and bringing that other side of the city out. Then people don’t just see us as cowboys and rednecks, but they start see us as poets and dancers and artists as well.

TYLER PERRY

Teaching Grade 9 English in Calgary brings up challenges and equal rewards for Perry, which he channels into his poetry that reflects upon the personalities and environment witnessed with Perry’s daily work. Along with his mentoring duties and contributing his time to the Calgary slam poetry community, Perry had his first book of poetry published in 2010.

Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from for your poetry?

Perry: A lot of my writing is related to teaching. When I started teaching poetry I found that I had a desire to write poetry of my own. It’s a mixture of things based a lot on my thought process; sometimes I will think of an image and it is just something that I will want to write about. Tyler Perry is a grade 9 language arts teacher in Calgary and draws his inspiration largely from the classroom.
Photo courtesy of: Tyler Perry

Q. What would be your immediate plan if you were to be named the poet laureate?

Perry: Strengthening the connection between the arts community and the school community. To see a sort of broadening view of poetry in the way that it is taught. It’s amazing when introduced to contemporary poetry how much the interest level goes up. That way you kind of remove poetry as a sort of artifact or something that is sacred and needs to be decoded.

Q. What is it about your poetry and style that qualified you to be placed on the short list of the poet laureate?

Perry: The subjects that I tend to write about tend to have a large appeal; they are not stuck in the idea that they need to apply to a university mind. I think it applied to education, to anyone who has had any type of education in his or her life.

Q. Why do you think that Calgary needs a poet laureate?

Perry: I think it means kind of a public presence, kind of being a welcoming presence to the people of Calgary and to the arts community, I think that it’s being ambassador for the arts. I think that because this will be Calgary’s inaugural term with a poet laureate, it’s kind of open because no one has set the standard for Calgary.

SHERI-D WILSON

As someone who is constantly in contact with poetry, Wilson’s passion for the art of language has led her to be dubbed the Mama of Dada. Wilson began as an actor, but was stolen by the wonders of poetry, and now has had eight collections of her poetry published. As the organizer of multiple festivals and programs both national and local, Wilson also hosts monthly youth poetry slams at the Calgary Public Library.

Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from for your poetry?

Wilson: I think that my acting had something to do with absolutely loving what happens to poetry when it is lofted off the page. It is a sensation and takes poetry to another realm. I write because I love the idea of expression. And I started reading Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island Of The Mind,” and it blew my circuits. And I just thought that I really want to express myself on that level. Sheri-D Wilson or the Mama of Dada started acting and fell in love with poetry.
 Photo by: Kammryn Dancy

Q. What would be your immediate plan if you were to be named the poet laureate?

Wilson: If I get to do this, I am going to go wild. Everyone in Calgary will be writing poetry and – I mean it – there isn’t going to be one soul left untouched: language poetry in every language, people will be singing poetry, I’m going to make it the epicentre of poetry in the world. I think it’s already the epicentre of Canada, but now, I want the world. I want world poetry domination.

Q. What is it about your poetry and style that qualified you to be placed on the short list of the poet laureate?

Wilson: I think that it is just a natural extension of my work. I try to bring people together. I work in an oral tradition: I perform for people while people are performing for each other. I like to bring poetry into different realms so that it is not just seen as being one thing but that it is multi-faceted.

Q. Why do you think that Calgary needs a poet laureate?

Wilson: To lead the city into a massive poetry orgasm, then have another one. It is going to continue, it’s going to be a multiple, you know what I mean. It is about creating a platform of communication – the possibility of giving a voice to people and between people. Creating an ultimate platform of communication, which is truth. Poetry is about truth.

KRIS DEMEANOR

A consummate consumer of Calgary in all its forms, Demeanor is a singer-songwriter who indulges in the culture of the city he was born in. His six CDs interrogate what it means to be Calgarian. Whether his lyrics stretch into the sprawl of suburbia in Calgary, or resonate on the labyrinth-like nature of drug use, Demeanor loves to takes part in the city.

Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from for your poetry?

Demeanor: Everyday fragments of conversation that I overhear. I enjoy how people use language, how they repeat many of the same words. Say “like” or “um” and “aha” and all of the ways that we try to stall while we think about we are trying to say. I find that interesting and the way people use language differently professionally, socially, when they are tired.

Q. What would be your immediate plan if you were to be named the poet laureate?

Demeanor: It would be interesting to become involved and engaged with communities of recent immigrants. I am really interested in their stories and their perspectives on Calgary. I always find that places — the virtues and the shortcomings of a place — are always best articulated by those who come from somewhere else. Kris Demeanor is a Calgarian singer songwriter, but Demeanor does not limit himself to song as he is currently working on a book compiling his poetry.
Photo courtesy of: Kris Demeanor

Q. What is it about your poetry and style that qualified you to be placed on the short list of the poet laureate?

Demeanor: My experience has been being a Calgary artist pretty much throughout my career. Much of my work has had a very local flavour, very specific reference to the city and its people, and so I think that that could be part of it – it is the poet laureate of Calgary.

Q. Why do you think that Calgary needs a poet laureate?

Demeanor: I don’t want to sound snarky (but) in some ways it is something like a jester in the king’s court. The king asking the jester to sing him a song to lighten the mood, when times are tough. But the jester kind of slips in some stuff to undermine the king’s power and authority and makes him realize that he should be a little more responsible with his own power. But I think in some ways the poet acts a little like the conscience of the power structure of the authority and bureaucracy and says, “Hey we need to do things and we need to think about why we do them.” And I think that that is a useful function.

DIANE GUICHON

A relative newcomer to Calgary’s poetry scene, Guichon’s passion for poetry developed from working towards her masters in creative writing, which she received in 2006. She works closely with visual artist Lissi Legge matching her poetry to paintings, but largely occupies her time by educating, as she is a teacher of English literature and academic writing. Guichon had her first book of poetry published in 2007 and was an award winner.

Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from for your poetry?

Guichon: I write about a lot of different topics; I like to serve up concrete images. Right now I have a project going where I write about apparitions of the Virgin Mary in things like grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate fondues. So I like to think of it as philosophical questions about how we live every day. Diane Guichon is a newcomer to poetry but is no slouch herself, her book Birch Split Bark won the 2007 W.O. Mitchell Book Award.
Photo courtesy of: Diane Guichon

Q. What would be your immediate plan if you were to be named the poet laureate?

Guichon: Because you have the name poet laureate behind you and you have the city behind you, I think it would be great if some of the AM stations would read poetry in the morning and places of business would consider poetry. We think of poetry in schools, but we don’t always think about a poem across the side of a city bus. Just making poetry more visible all the time.

Q. What is it about your poetry and style that qualified you to be placed on the short list of the poet laureate?

Guichon: I have spoken in residence in a variety of places and I think I have shown that I can speak to a lot of different types of audiences. And I have written poetry for a lot of events – for funerals, and for engagement parties – and I think that people still value poetry for special occasions.

Q. Why do you think that Calgary needs a poet laureate?

Guichon: I think they just focus the energy to the literary genre. Calgary is a big place and it is important, and I think we should have a poet laureate. Someone is going to have to write a poem for that Peace Bridge, or the hundredth anniversary of the Stampede. There are just a ton of events that need that voice.

DEREK BEAULIEU

The former editor of numerous magazines like filling Station and dANDelion, Beaulieu has produced in the realm of 750 issues of literary material promoting Calgary. He works prolifically with visual poetry, so much so that one of his poems was projected on the Calgary Tower as a part of WordFest 2011. Beaulieu has had five books of his poetry published, along with numerous anthologies with artists from across Canada.

Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from for your poetry?

Beaulieu: I find that we are surrounded by language and as I walk down the street I find that we are constantly seeing logos and we are constantly seeing letters and numbers being presented to us. And I get extremely inspired just walking down the street being involved with the city that surrounds us, and looking and being surrounded by these logos and information that is constantly bombarding us.

Q. What would be your immediate plan if you were to be named the poet laureate?

Beaulieu: I would like to see readings; I would like to see workshops; I would like to see things all over the city. Trying to present the fact that this city is extremely multi-cultural and we have to respect a lot of the differences and challenges that a lot of those types of language are creating for us. Look at what are the possibilities of poetry in Forest Lawn what are the possibilities of poetry in the northeast or down in Ogden. Derek Beaulieu began his foray into poetry 15 years ago with a love for the visual language of everyday.
Photo courtesy of: Derek Beaulieu

Q. What is it about your poetry and style that qualified you to be placed on the short list of the poet laureate?

Beaulieu: I think that my nomination revolves a lot around my involvement with the community. I have been publishing now for 12 years and in that time I have published around 700 different items – all of them handed out all of them given out across the city, across the country and internationally promoting Calgary writers, Canadian writers, and international writers, and putting poetry in other people’s hands.

Q. Why do you think that Calgary needs a poet laureate?

Beaulieu: I think it is like a forest-for-the-trees thing: when you are far enough away you can recognize the breadth and the strength of what is happening, but when you are right in it that may not be something that you notice. But with a civic endorsement of this position having it supported by Calgary Arts Development and the city, it lends credence to that voice. It lends an authority.

The above interviews have been edited and condensed for publication purposes.

Calgary Arts Development is hosting a showcase of the six short listed poets. The showcase takes place March 1 at Hotel Arts. Each poet will be presenting a piece they wrote for the occasion, the event is free and begins at 7 p.m. More information about the poet laureate position and the March 1 showcase can be found here.

kdancy@cjournal.ca