Educator, literary critic and playwright Dr. George Elliott Clarke has landed another poet laureate assignment.
Just three months after completing a three-year honorary post with the City of Toronto, he was appointed Canada’s next parliamentary poet laureate.
The seventh poet to hold the office, Clarke was selected by the Speakers in Parliament upon the recommendation of the selection committee chaired by parliamentary librarian Sonia L’Heureux.
Senate Speaker George Furey said Clarke’s contribution to Canada’s cultural fabric is exceptional.
“George Elliott Clarke has been a true ambassador of the work of Canadian poets,” he said.
House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan noted that Clarke’s talent as a poet, playwright and literacy critic is undeniable.
“He is an immensely versatile and engaging writer and will bring great honour to the position,” noted Regan.
Clarke, a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi’kmaq Amerindian heritage, said the appointment is more than a personal holiday gift.
The appointment became effective on New Year’s Day.
“It is a transcendent national recognition of the vitality of our official languages and doubly powerful poetries, informed by two great literary traditions,” he said. “I am humbled and honoured, inspired and eager to follow previous parliamentary poets laureate in valuing in verse our super-natural nation’s exemplary experiments in democratized humanism.”
Federal legislators created the post 15 years ago to draw the attention of Canadians to the reading and writing of poetry. The poet laureate’s duties include composing poetry, particularly for use in parliament on occasions of state; sponsor poetry readings; advise the parliamentary librarian on the library’s cultural collection and perform related duties at the request of the Speakers of the Senate and House of Commons and the parliamentary librarian.
Appointed for a two-year term, the poet laureate receives an annual stipend of $20,000, up to $13,000 in travel expenses annually and a budget for programming, administrative expenses and translation/adaptation of works into Canada’s second official language.
Clarke, whose poetry was interwoven with pianist Joe Sealy’s music as part of the 1996 released Africville Suite musical tribute, is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto (U of T) and former parliamentary assistant to retired politician and university professor Dr. Howard McCurdy.
“George Elliott Clarke is an inspired choice for this role,” said U of T Arts & Science faculty dean David Cameron. “He is truly a people’s poet whose award-winning work is renowned and whose passion for verse is absolutely contagious.”
Dr. Richard Greene, a U of T professor and one of Canada’s leading poets, said Clarke is a major figure in contemporary Canadian literature.
“He has always had a way of bridging private and public experiences in his poetry and now that he is the parliamentary poet laureate, that dimension of his work will stand out all the more,” Greene said. “Our students will see in him how poetry can matter in a world larger than classrooms or coffee shops. He will speak beauty to power and, if nothing else, that will be a lesson to the young poets in our midst.”
The recipient of several writing awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, Clarke is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia and the holder of eight honorary doctorates.
By RON FANFAIR