Poet laureate Lorri Neilsen Glenn helps integrate arts, community
Poet laureate helps integrate arts, community March 30, 2009 – Halifax Chronicle Herald – Angela Mombourquette / Don’t get me started?
‘PEOPLE THINK that poets just kind of sit and stare off into space and write about the sunset,” Lorri Neilsen Glenn tells me with a laugh.
“But it’s not like that at all. It’s like any other kind of writing. It’s work, and it means paying attention to the world around you and following up on that.”
She would know. Neilsen Glenn is the author of numerous books, including several collections of poetry, and she is the outgoing poet laureate of Halifax Regional Municipality.
The deadline has just passed in the search for her successor, who will be the municipality’s third poet laureate since the position was created in 2001.
(Sue MacLeod was our first laureate from 2001 to 2005, and Neilsen Glenn has held the position since then.) So, as we await the proclamation of our new poet laureate, I think we should check in with our current resident poet.
I ask Neilsen Glenn why a city like Halifax needs a poet laureate.
“Why does anywhere need a poet laureate?” she responds. “It’s because the arts always need to be integrated into the community as much as possible.
“We know that the health of the arts represents the health of the community. We know that kids, through work and study in the arts, do better in traditional areas, such as math and science. That’s been established. And yet somehow, the arts are typically marginalized.”
One of her goals has been to change that.
Part of the mandate of each poet laureate is to create a “legacy project,” and Neilsen Glenn says that perhaps the proudest achievement of her term has been the creation of a youth group called Wordfishing.
“I am really delighted with this terrific group of young people who are in high school and early university,” she tells me. “We meet every month or so at the Jade W bookshop, and they bring their work. These kids are not only poets, but they are short-story writers and songwriters.”
Last fall, the group recorded their songs and then published a chapbook with a CD.
“It’s been amazing,” she gushes.
“They are just very inspiring.”
Her successor will also serve as a sort of ambassador and advocate for literacy, and, as she puts it, “represent the literary arts in the community.”
Glenn’s busy term included organizing a municipal authors’ night and “book crawl” at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, working with the Dartmouth literacy network, teaching various workshops and spearheading a series of readings at the Halifax public library called Poetry in Many Languages, where new Canadians read poetry in their first languages.
She also travelled across Canada, performing readings with some of the other poets laureate from across the country.
With all those demands, I ask if her writing might have suffered a bit.
She admits that her work had to go on the back burner a bit because of her other responsibilities. But she adds that “I would never complain.”
“The position might take away from writing time, but it also provides other things that you wouldn’t otherwise experience: the chance to meet all sorts of different people, and learn more about what’s going on in the literary community, not only locally, but across the country. So it’s really fortunate to have that kind of opportunity.
“It has been a privilege.”
The municipality’s next poet laureate will be announced in mid-April.