Halfway through his two-year term as Calgary’s first poet laureate, Kris Demeanor reflects on his first year and shares what he has planned for the second in an interview with Avenue magazine.
Kris, describe your first year as Calgary’s poet laureate.
The first year I felt like my head was just above water, and I was trying to do justice to the new writing I was commissioned to do and be focused and sober at events I was asked to attend, while doing the myriad things it takes to remain in a heated home and shop almost exclusively at Lina’s Italian Market. I am hoping in the second half of the term that I will have a chance to do more informal, spontaneous events, engage with fellow poets and writers in a more meaningful way, and start doing more social media-related promotion of literature in Calgary. It’s not my most natural form of communication, but I appreciate its power and need a virtual realm coach.
Do you have any specific plans for the coming year?
Dymphny Droynk, vice president of the League of Canadian Poets Council, and I have started up a collective called Re:Act, which is bringing together the different literary groups of Calgary for events, discussion and creative cross-pollination. By the end of the second half of my term as poet laureate, we aim to curate and publish a book of poetry, spoken word, song lyric and visual art. I am also doing a number of school residencies, a piece for the organization Linkages, which brings together youth and seniors in exchanging stories and creating friendships, workshops with recent immigrants at Bow Valley College, and fielding the inbox of other requests that come daily.
As the city’s inaugural poet laureate, do you think the project has been a success?
It hasn’t saved the city from crap sports bars and shrill, content-free mass media, but I find the position has been welcomed and appreciated in all sectors of Calgary culture, from education to tourism, business and social services, and I know for a fact that numerous people have thought deeply, laughed loudly, and conversed intensely, provoked and inspired by creative language. That’s a good thing.
How could the poet laureate program be improved?
Obviously, the more people who know about it the better, and the more people involved in creating and disseminating poetry the better. So, we could get a college student or aspiring poet to act as a publicist/cheerleader – another brain and set of fingers to help spread the word. CADA [Calgary Arts Development Authority] does all it can, and I am busy writing and eating foie gras at soirees (just kidding – that’s barbaric), but to be shadowed by and play mentor to a young artist who can also help highlight the poet laureate position would be grand.
April is National Poetry Month – what do you have planned?
On April 8 I am reading a new work at City Hall and have challenged Mayor Nenshi to create a haiku of his own for the event. It’s part of a nation-wide Mayor’s Poetry Challenge, in which all the poets laureate read a poem to their councils as part of the more general promotion of National Poetry Month. I am also attending a conference of Canadian poets laureate in Edmonton, doing school workshops and performing, a highlight being a night with C.R. Avery and Tanya Evanson. And I will also be hosting a few events and performing at the Calgary Spoken Word Festival, that stellar week of poetry and spoken word put on by the Mama of Dada, Sheri D Wilson.