Twelve years of Canada Council Poetry Readings
Prestigious literary visitors to Redeemer's campus
4 min. read
January 30, 2013

Since 2001, thanks mainly to an annual grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, and in collaboration with the Hamilton Poetry Centre, we have had the honour at Redeemer University College of hosting a number of Canadian poets, both well-established and rising stars, from all across Canada. The poets have typically come to campus on a Thursday afternoon, giving a reading of their poetry, signing books, and interacting in question-and-answer sessions with students, professors, and others from the community, before moving on to read for the Hamilton Poetry Centre that evening in downtown Hamilton. Next time you’re on campus, take a look at a sampling of the “Poetry Reading” posters from the last twelve years – you will find them in the corridor by the English Department’s pod, near the Art Gallery. In the first year of the program, 2001-2, we were privileged to host a reading by Robert Kroetsch, “Mr Postmodern” himself. He was charming and winsome, and endeared himself to an audience that had expected to find him as formidable in presentation as he can be in print. We are grateful that Kroetsch managed to fit Redeemer into his schedule. He died in 2011 at the age of 83, one of Canada’s “greats.” In that same first year of the series, Don McKay read for us: he is arguably Canada’s most gifted and influential living poet, a household name in the literary community right across Canada, and it was a great honour to have him here, sharing through his witty poetry in particular his love of birding and of geology. In the second year of the series, 2002-3, perhaps the most memorable visits were from two younger poets who are also novelists: Michael Crummey, from Newfoundland, and Michael Redhill, from Toronto, both rising stars who have since met with considerable acclaim and wider public recognition. The other particularly colourful reader that season was George Elliott Clarke, now Toronto’s poet laureate and a professor at U. of Toronto, but then a taste of black Baptist Nova Scotia with a jazz sensibility and a jazz performer’s style of presentation. It is a fine experience for students to see plastered across the news media the names of writers they’ve met at Redeemer. And so it went on, through the next ten years: poets from everywhere in Canada, from B.C. to Newfoundland; poets just starting out, poets well-established and well-fêted; poets who have won the Governor General’s Award or the Griffin Prize or other prestigious awards; poets respectable and poets outlandish; poets from WASP backgrounds and poets from places that have escaped from WASPish clutches. Some poets were soft-spoken and kind to their audience; some (like Christian Bök) were demanding and loud. Some (like John Terpstra and Pier Giorgio di Cicco) were people of Christian faith; some were stridently otherwise. Some were very intellectually demanding (like Tim Lilburn and David Solway); some were aiming at a more popular audience (Lorna Crozier and Molly Peacock, for instance). Some were serious, some funny; some political, some personal, some both at once. Some used only contemporary free-verse forms; some (like fall 2012’s Amanda Jernigan and James Langer) were particularly interested in traditional forms and structures. Some (memorably Carmine Starnino) were even strident critics of each other’s work. But for students to meet these poets “in the flesh” and find out from their own lips about their working styles, their philosophies, their influences, their hopes, and their struggles has always been exciting and encouraging, and often eye-opening. Poetry is alive and well in Canada, and has lots to say! Not surprisingly, there has been particular benefit for students in our Creative Writing courses: some of the visiting poets have generously offered our students help and advice—links to publishers, graduate programs, and other reading series, and critique on an individual basis to these budding poets at Redeemer. We’re told, too, that the poets love coming to Redeemer – that they have really appreciated the warmth of their reception here, the attentive audiences, the intelligent questions, and that they have spread the word in the literary community across Canada that Redeemer is a good gig to get. And so it is with wholehearted affirmation that we look forward to the continuation of this series as a fruitful partnership with HPC and the Canada Council for the Arts for many years to come.

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