Powell River Live Poets’ Guild struck out boldly in a new direction in January, with Parallel: Forty-nine Canadian poets speak to Obama. More than five hundred poets across Canada were personally invited to respond to a competition for forty-nine poems that would tell the new American president, who is strongly arts-oriented, something essential about Canada and being Canadian.
A strong response from poets famous, infamous, and unknown brought in several hundred poems from across the country. Governor-General’s Award winners and Poets Laureate mingle with private closet poets who have never before shown their verse to a soul. The variety of submissions is wonderful and the quality high, says editor Eva van Loon. “I love this anarchic, populist project, not least because only rarely does the literary voice of Canada speak from the West. It pleases me that tiny Powell River has the red-haired, swashbuckling gumption to try this on. Usually these initiatives come from Toronto or Montreal.”
Parallel is planned to be the first book entirely digitally published and manufactured in Powell River. The Guild, which published its first book in 2008 as the Youth Peace-Poem Contest anthology PRIPPA 2008: Friendship Never Ends, decided to try to end dependence on out-of-community sources by starting niche publishing on a local basis. Parallel will be the first book along the learning curve, but the Guild may also re-publish special editions of the collection as local publishing catches on and opportunities arise for special editions for special books like this one.
“Some of these poems are heartbreakers and some are hilarious,” says van Loon, who lived in the US for about a decade. “We’re asking our first, second, and third-round judges to try to put themselves in Obama’s shoes–or slippers, if the First Puppy hasn’t chewed those up–and consider which poems would speak to them about Canada and stick in their minds. That’s what sets this collection apart from any other collection of Canadian poetry. We are at a point in history when we must tell our enormous, powerful neighbor who we really are, and what our vision is. It would have been a waste of time to present the previous American administration with this collection. But this President may just listen–and hear.”
The Guild sent nine of the poems to Obama just before his Canadian visit and will send the book as a gift as soon as it comes off the press in the next two months. Powell Riverites will have first crack at buying a copy from the Guild’s website or at the still-to-be-announced book launch at $15 plus applicable taxes. “For once,” grins van Loon, “the rest of the country is going to have pay a little more–ferry costs, you understand.”
Happy to announce that over two hundred poems by 70 poets have come in thus far for possible inclusion in “Parallel: 49 Canadian Poets Speak to Obama.” We are starting to like the title, not least because parallel lines by definition do not meet. If one thing is clear from this stack of fine creativity before me, it is that Canadians are a unique people.
The youngest poet is 22; the eldest 80. (If you can expand that envelope, please do.)
Poems have come from poets in Nova Scotia, each prairie province, Quebec, Ontario–even Hawai’i. There’s only a sprinkle from north of 60, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and PEI, however; so if you know any poets there, nudge them to choose one of their finest pieces and send it in. They’ll be in good company, GG winners, poets laureate, published poets, unpublished poets–a wild melange, but the quality of poetry is very high.
All forms are welcome. We have haiku, tanka, villanelle, sonnet, couplet, song lyrics, and a ton of free verse.
First-round judging is drawing to a close this week or early next, but you should definitely send yours in to mettalaw[at]gmail[dot]com by this weekend.
We sent nine poems from the collection via email to President Obama a few days before his visit to Canada, as a taste of what is to come.
The cover is being designed by a young Canadian painter. I’ll see if we can put it up here when available.
Thanks for being part of this uplifting project in these difficult times. Remember Yeats claimed poets carry the world on their shoulders?
If the first round of judging has begun without your work–we still really want it!
I wish we could transmit the joy and wonder of reading these varied voices of Canada. Every kind of poetry is coming in, haiku to song lyrics, sonnets to free verse. The final judges will have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose just 49 pieces that, fitted together, will give President Obama the experience of meeting the complete Canadian.
The first question judges will be asking themselves for each poem is, “If I were Obama, what would this poem tell me about Canada or being a Canadian?” The next question will be, “Is this a good poem?” The final consideration will be how each poem fits with the next in the jigsaw puzzle picture of Canada we are putting together.
Thus far, the shortest submission is a couplet and the longest is a six-part six-pager. The oldest poem was written forty years ago; the newest was hot off the ballpoint seconds before submission. Some metaphorically, obliquely, or plainly touch on Canadian issues; others focus on personal life. The fattening file contains lyrics, profanity, philosophy, passion, and (really weird) punctuation. You’ll fit right in.
What does matters is that you have the rights to publish the poem(s), and that it says something, however subtly, about your experience as a Canadian.
Mr. Obama is visiting Canada February 19 and we would like to send him at least a foretaste of the final collection before his trip. The actual book will be published first as a paperback with a low or no eco-footprint and along the principles of community sustainability. A special handmade edition is being considered. Stay tuned.
Refresh your memory about this project, and let us have it (your work, that is)!
Wow! I’m up to my ears in poems! Poems from the North, poems from the West, poems from the East, and poems from the Middle. Poems from poets laureate, poems from the famous and infamous, poems from people who’ve been very quiet until now. We’ll have a beautiful and varied collection to send the Prez, no doubt about that.
But we must hurry up–he’s coming to Canada on the 19th of February. We’d like him to know something about the poetic soul of Canada before then.
First round of selection is in Powell River this weekend, February 9 and 10. So, if you want to be in that number, send those poems marching in!
Here’s a reminder of guidelines and answers to some questions we’ve had.
- Previously published poems are eligible for inclusion as long as you retain the rights.
- Attachments are preferable to having poems in the body of an email, but either form is acceptable.
- There is no fee for submitting poems, and no limit to the number of poems.
We are working on arrangements for a special handmade edition in addition to the initial paperback. Stay tuned.
Suggestions for a title to the collection are most welcome. Thus far, what’s come to mind is something like Parallel: Canadian poets speak to the President.
Looking forward to your work!
As of today, 456 poets across Canada and up and down have been individually invited to join this project. And how the lines are rolling in! This is becoming a feasible and exciting project, wordwrights–pull up a pen or belly up to the keyboard, why don’t you?
Do poems have to be on any particular subject (like–shudder–politics)? Addressed to Obama? Unpublished?
No, no, and no. Submit any poem you like as long as you can give the Powell River Live Poets’ Guild one-time rights to publish it. If your poem is a piece of the puzzle that is the Canadian soul, it may be one of the forty-nine.
In two weeks the collection will undergo the first level of winnowing. Luckily, in a project like this judges need not decide on which poem is the very best, second best, and so forth–the criterion applies to the entire collection. We want to present a well-rounded yet multilayered picture of us, Canada, Canucktitude, the national spirit and aspirations.
Hmm…that description reminds me of how Canadians look on our wintry streets–rounded bundles of down jackets over layers of warm clothes. A lot of the poetry arriving is more lightly clad, even stark–in other words, your poetic style is your choice. We hope for a variety of styles and it seems that is what is coming in.
We could use another judge or two. Experience living in the US would be helpful.
Suggestions for the book’s title are welcome. So far we have “Parallel” or “Parallels”, with a subtitle that lets readers know this is a collection designed to give the President and them a taste of the real Canada.
Have at it, poets.
The blog is up, the poems are rolling in from the famous, infamous, and emerging poets of this land, and we’re on the way to collecting 49 quintessentially Canadian poems to the 44th president of the US!
Mr. Obama will receive a taste of the collection on Inauguration Day, but, since it will take him a while to recuperate from attending ten inaugural balls anyway, collection will continue to the end of January.
After living in both countries, I see that Canadians generally are far more aware of what is going on in the US than Americans are aware of what makes Canada tick (and that’s not saying much for us Canadian head-in-the-sanders!) Worldly and intelligent as President Obama may be, the same rule of thumb probably applies to him.
With a person running the US who is open to the influence of the arts as perhaps no previous president has been, we poets have an unprecedented opportunity to increase Obama’s appreciation of who his neighbors are, and of what is and isn’t possible between our countries. Let’s leap at the chance to influence a world leader to make decisions that will do Canada long-term good instead of leaving that job to political leaders who enjoy so little of our support.
Don’t feel you must write a fresh poem. Please study your poem collection with an eye to what your lines say about being Canadian or in Canada. We’re not looking for political acumen, opinion, or commentary on US/Canada relations. Your poems needn’t say anything about the US or Canada at all on their face. We just want poems that express…well, call it Canucktitude for now.
Take this one as an example–not a political word in it; yet it speaks volumes about the immigrant experience in Canada half a century ago. (I can do this because it’s mine–don’t worry: your entries will not be posted.)
Easter, Sylvan Lake, 1956
Half the century ago
I found the Easter Bunny
dead about three days
his stench didn’t stop my little hand
from stroking his velvet ears
from noticing the hole in his heart
where my father had pierced him
Now I wonder
how it felt
between those darkened fingers
the silken ears still warm
as he flung the little life into the bush
if he felt better
about the stubborn sleeper in the tent,
the one who lay and moaned
for silk and velvet dreams
left rotting on a European shore
Can Powell River Live Poets’ Guild on the blessed western edge of the country produce this book? With your participation, Yes, we can!
Powell River Live Poets Guild
Poems are already starting to roll in! Here’s an update from Kaimana Wolff.
Well, we’ve notified 13 major newspapers, the entire journalism world north of 60, Canadian University Papers, and 110 poets–and counting–so far. This is going to take all week, turning eyes into burning lumps of coal.
Some poets are harder to unearth than groundhogs before February 2. Others are out there with their very own websites. In projects like these, I love the websites–thanks for making it easy to communicate, poets.
Behold, some fabulous stuff is beginning to roll in!
You don’t have to be famous or even published to join this endeavor, remember. Just send those lines to mettalaw[at]gmail[dot]com–soon!
Send us your poems, people!
Here’s another poem by Kaimana Wolff that she’s considering submitting.
Yukoner Comes to Vancouver
Exiled to paradise again
I’m forced to strip:
the parka slips off first;
then the heavy boots,
till pale skin’s blinking in the unaccustomed air
The body lightens; sucks at seacoast city,
easy bones softened by the greening rain
Wrap me in nothing but this warm, wet wind–
“so light, so right”
now I’m on my way
mere nacreous twist of anonymous sun–
so simple to stay here, drugged and dreaming
(but I’m searching for a single wild face
I’m looking for a touch like a talisman,
an eye with the knowledge of a brave slant sun
that lays its light upon me with an urgent grace–)
“Stop that singing! stop that howling!
Stop that noxious caterwauling!
Not allowed! not allowed!
You can’t do that in a crowd–”
Exiled to paradise again I must admit
I like this next-to-nudity,
this weightless anonymity,
this multitudinous silence where I can’t be missed
(still I hunger for a single wild face,
and ambush every eyeful of dreams;
I listen for a voice that blows the skull clean
as the clear dry wind of that mountain place–)
“Forget the North–it’s all gone bad!
Drop the past–or you’ll go mad.
Stay light! Stay right!
Keep those civilised goals in sight–”
Exiled to paradise again, can I forget
that I was not the only animal
whose wild face lifted to a lengthening sun
Kaimana and I decided to post some poems that would be appropriate for the project, to give you something to consider. Here’s one that Kaimana is considering submitting.
The sun of these soft woods
has gathered and curled wtihin him
all shining threads of summer
and today has cleared the workhouse of the sky
to hammer out a new gold
Kneeling on the roofbeam
with your hammer half raised
don’t stop to listen to his celebration
catch filaments of this azure sun
and bind them to your roof
But stop you will
dizzy from within your work
lean for the moment looking northward
undone by the circling season
a golden shingle drops from a poplar
as winter water
Please note that Kaimana can post this because she has copyright permission — don’t post your poems in the comments! Send them to Kaimana with permission for us to publish them so that no laws are broken. (It helps to have a lawyer run a Poets’ Guild sometimes.)
Kaimana Wolff, the brain-mother of this project, recently commented on the About page with a bit of what she wants to say — in case you haven’t read that page, I decided to post here what she said, so that things are very clear.
If you choose to participate in this project, you obviously believe two things I believe: (1) It is important that President Obama of the US know who Canadians are and what we want; and (2) this president responds to art and creative endeavor. What an opportunity for creative Canadians to have meaningful imput on the North American–and the world–future!
When you send in your poetry, please include your real name, your author name (if you have one), your province or territory, your age (approximately) and gender (approximately works here, too)–this helps us select a balanced collection.
Add these two statements to the bottom of each poem:
A. I DECLARE that this poem is my own work entirely and that I hold all publishing rights to it; B. I GIVE Powell River Live Poets’ Guild the right to send my poem to President Obama on the occasion of his inauguration on January 20, 2009 and to publish this poem as part of “Poems for Obama from Canada” collection (or similar title) without any compensation beyond crediting me with authorship.
Thank you for making this project a joy!
Kaimana is very excited about this project, and as she’s dealing with all the poem submissions to come in, it’s important these guidelines are followed. It’s also important to note her reasons for doing this project at all: “(1) It is important that President Obama of the US know who Canadians are and what we want; and (2) this president responds to art and creative endeavor. ” Important to Canadians, and Americans, and the relations between our countries.
I don’t know about you, but I think keeping things friendly and educated is a good thing.