Daisy: I couldn't be happier with my decision to attend U of T. The English Department here is phenomenal, and I've had the privilege of taking classes that are well-presented, interesting and intellectually stimulating. Some highlights have included courses on Shakespeare, literary critical theory and eighteenth century women writers. It has also been amazing to see how much relevance and crossover in material there is between my English courses and my Political Science (the other component of my degree) courses. Outside of the classroom, my experiences have been equally as enriching and rewarding. I've served on the English Students' Union executive and the IDIOM editorial board for two years now, both of which have been great fun. I've also served on the editorial board of the Trin Review and was a journalist for The Diplomat, the daily publication of the model UN conference hosted by U of T. Beyond English-related extra-curriculars, I've had the honour of being part of a number of interesting clubs such as the International Relations Society, the U of T Pre-Law Society, the Trinity Environment Club, and many others. These experiences have played a huge role in shaping me as a person in a pivotal time of identity-searching. Student life at the University of Toronto encompasses multiple facets, and truly offers boundless opportunities for unforgettable experiences.
Jaclyn: U of T was always my first choice for post-secondary studies and my experience here has proved that it was the best choice as well. Unlike some other colleges and universities, U of T allows students to combine vastly different areas of study, like biology and English, which creates a truly diverse learning experience. While my combination of subject posts isn’t overly drastic (English, Cinema Studies and Writing and Rhetoric), I have had the opportunity to take some fantastic courses, such as Canadian Poetry taught by Lynn Crosbie. While classes certainly take up most of my week, I have also become involved with various initiatives within Innis College and the University. For example, I was an executive member and mentor for Innis College’s mentorship program, Innis InSight, as well as a member of the editorial board for Innis College’s interdisciplinary journal, The Innis Review, for three years. Outside of Innis, I am involved with various volunteer organizations, primarily Circle K, which works closely with the Kiwanis Club of Toronto to provide volunteer opportunities for students around the city. Of course, the English Students’ Union has been an integral part of my experience at U of T, and I am thankful for all of the support from English Department Chair Professor Bewell as well as the professors who participate and make possible many of our events for the English student population at U of T.
The University of Toronto successfully caters to both academic and social needs to create a phenomenal university environment. George Elliot Clarke Named Toronto's Fourth Poet Laureate
A moment in the presence of acclaimed poet-professor George Elliott Clarke, and the cliché of the shy, introverted, and solitary poet is shattered.
The E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto is irrepressibly energetic and extroverted, punctuating his sentences with exclamation marks and radiating a warm enthusiasm for culture and community building that’s downright contagious.
Former student Brooke Lockyer (MA Creative Writing, 2009) asks Toronto’s new Poet-Laureate about becoming the city’s official literary ambassador, and his desire “to entrench the Laureateship as a cornerstone of the City’s commitment to culture—practically as a ‘civil right.’”
1. Congratulations on the recent appointment as Toronto's fourth Poet Laureate! What can we look forward to?
Being a citizen-poet, I hope to utilize the position for outreach to other Torontonians, to encourage the adoption of poetry as an everyday reading choice, as opposed to its being cordoned off in classrooms. I pray that the City of Toronto will once again, via “The Better Way” (i.e. the Toronto Transit Commission), allow poetry a presence in public transit vehicles. In this regard, I do hope to follow the material example of my immediate predecessor, Ms. Brand, by seeing poetry granted a concrete manifestation throughout the city.
2. In your acclaimed narrative poem Whylah Falls (1990), you write: "We are our pasts. Nothing is forgotten." In your graduate course on African Canadian literature, I was shocked to learn that there was slavery in Canada.
We seem to have a habit for repressing unsavoury elements of our history.
I’m pleased that you acknowledge the importance of historical knowledge to any artistic or cultural endeavour. In a sense, almost automatically, literature is a tissue of allusions, echoes, intertexts, haunts, and quotations, and it is proper that we know the sources and contexts of the originating speakers and writers. In addition, on a social level, there is much that we do not know about our collective history, and this amnesia is perilous: Not only do we ignore the pain that survivors of oppression experience, we run the risk of perpetuating oppression.
Certainly, as the Idle No More movement is demonstrating, no Canadian can afford to claim innocence in respect to the impoverishment of First Nations peoples, in their own land, from which our G-8-level wealth is extracted (pulp and paper, fossil fuels, hydroelectric power, precious metals, and strategic minerals, including uranium). I am glad—proud—to be a Canadian, but I do not forget that our legislatures have perpetrated grievous, shameful wrongs against various of our citizens. It is a civic responsibility—if not virtue—to be informed of injustice and to seek its rectification.
3. Are there any Toronto narratives on your radar that you'd like to bring to a wider audience?
I can foresee a poem or two in the voice of William Peyton Hubbard, Toronto’s first black city councillor, but also one of the original backers of what is now Ontario Hydro. However, I’m also very interested in the lives and experiences of immigrant—or migrant—poets who have made homes in Toronto. One such writer was Arthur Nortje, a South African exile, who lived on or near Roncesvalles Avenue, but who ended up committing suicide in England in 1970. I’m also interested in recovering the histories (plural) of “Spoken Word” in Toronto, and reaffirming its original proponents.
4. How do you feel about your adopted home of Toronto?
Toronto is attractive for its comprehensive and dynamic métissage or hybridity. The great fault of Toronto is that we often seem to doubt the city’s greatness. We need to champion much more passionately our essential, undeniable, vibrant, and practically unique multiculturalism. We tend to be less self-conscious about “mixing” peoples and traditions than other big cities and, simultaneously, we are less willing to impose a standard view of culture upon everyone.
Toronto is really a city of neighbourhoods. To live here is to join a neighbourhood.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
George Elliot Clarke Named Toronto's Fourth Poet Laureate