After a long and rather tumultuous process, Peterborough-Nogojiwanong will soon have its first-ever poet laureate.
Nominations are now open for a professional poet to serve a one-year term in the honorary position, which will recognize the excellence and outstanding achievements of a professional (print/page and/or spoken word) poet living and working in the City of Peterborough or Peterborough County.
The poet laureate will be paid a $2,000 honorarium for their term, which will run from June 20, 2021 until April 30, 2022.
The tradition of the poet laureate dates back to the ancient Greeks, who gave crowns or wreaths of laurel to recognize the achievements of celebrated poets and heroes. The tradition was revived during the Renaissance to recognize poetic preeminence at European universities in the Middle Ages, and has since been institutionalized by numerous nation states and cities around the world.
Today, in Canada, poets laureate are selected to reflect the cultural life of the city in which they live and write through poetry.
With the launch of the Poet Laureate Pilot Program, the City of Peterborough joins 16 other Ontario municipalities with existing poet laureate programs. Comparable regions include Barrie, Cobourg, Kingston, London, Owen Sound, and Windsor.
Poets laureate promote the importance of literature, arts, and culture in society by working to strengthen the public’s relationship to poetry and civic identity. The position of poet laureate recognizes the contributions of poets to the cultural life of the community in which they are appointed.
“Through poetry, a poet laureate inspires us and encourages us to reflect on our lives and the life of our community,” Mayor Diane Therrien stated in a media release.
“The arts community is a key part of the cultural, social. and economic vibrancy of Peterborough. Our first poet laureate is arriving at a milestone in the history of our community as we look forward to emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic when we will build back better together.”
The city’s poet laureate will be required to compose and present poems for Peterborough city council and for official city events and occasions, which will be determined annually in coordination with city staff and the Electric City Culture Council (EC3), which is administering the program under the guidance of the City of Peterborough’s Arts Culture Heritage Advisory Committee (ACHAC).
The program requires a total of four new works and four public readings to be created and presented during the poet laureate’s one-year term.
In addition to creating and presenting new works of poetry to enhance civic identity, the poet laureate will be required to liaise with city staff and EC3 on a quarterly basis, work with city staff and EC3 to develop a legacy project, provide a written report regarding the experience at the end of their term, and participate in the following year’s poet laureate selection committee.
“The Poet Laureate Pilot Program supports outstanding professional literary artists in the creation and presentation of new work that speaks to our lives in this place called Peterborough/Nogojiwanong,” said EC3 executive Director Su Ditta.
As an arm’s length independent arts council mandated by the City of Peterborough, EC3 will coordinate the nomination process and facilitate the selection process, including the appointment of the independent selection committee and the management of its work according to best practice arts council standards.
The city’s poet laureate program took several years to develop and was not without controversy. Following a 2017 request from the Peterborough Poetry Collective, the previous city council agreed to a poet laureate program on the condition that the collective fundraise for the program.
However, after receiving inaccurate information in a 2019 report by city staff, which erroneously claimed the Peterborough Poetry Collective had not raised the required funds, councillors Leslie Parnell and Henry Clarke voted against offering $2,000 of city funding for the program, much to the frustration of local poets.
The program was ultimately deemed a civic project to be funded by the City of Peterborough and was slated to begin in 2020. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit before the program could be launched.
To be eligible for selection, nominees must be 18 years of age or older, a current resident of the City of Peterborough or Peterborough County, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and have made a significant contribution to poetry or spoken word arts and the literary life of the municipality or surrounding region.
Nominees must also be professionally published according to the eligibility criteria, prepared to accept the responsibilities of the position, and accustomed to citizen engagement and community outreach. Self-nominations are not permitted.
Nomnations are open until Tuesday, May 25th, with the selected poet laureate to be announced on Wednesday, June 23rd. A nomination information session will be held on Zoom from 7 to 8 p.m. on Monday, May 10th.
To learn more about the Poet Laureate Pilot Program, including how to download the nomination form and program guidelines, visit EC3’s website at ecthree.org/program/peterborough-poet-laureate-pilot-program/.