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Nanaimo names first poet laureate

Naomi Beth Wakan was chosen as Nanaimo’s first poet laureate. One of her goals is to highlight the other talented writers in the city. - Photo contributed
Naomi Beth Wakan was chosen as Nanaimo’s first poet laureate. One of her goals is to highlight the other talented writers in the city.
— image credit: Photo contributed

After more than two decades of putting pen to paper, Gabriola poet Naomi Beth Wakan has become well-versed in the art of self-expression.

Now the 82-year-old wordsmith hopes to inspire others to discover their creative outlets.

Meet Nanaimo’s first ever poet laureate.

Wakan, an established poet and essayist, was picked last week from seven contenders to officially become the people’s poet.

She became a frontrunner early on for the quality of her work and the sheer volume of books she’s had published, said Kim Smythe, member of the selection committee.

At last count, Wakan had 50 titles.

As the city’s new cultural ambassador, Wakan will now spend a three-year term adding poetic flair to major events and showcasing creative and cultural community.

It’s a job Wakan is surprised to get, but she said she’s enthusiastic about the new tasks.

“I did tell [the committee] I may be dead before the contract is up ... so they know what they are getting with an 82-year-old lady,” she said, laughing. “[But] I am always full of wild ideas.”

The Gabriola poet hopes to showcase Nanaimo in a positive light and introduce the community to its creative talent.

Wakan said she can think of at least 20 poets who could have been just as suitable to be the city’s first poet laureate and plans to introduce them to the city.

Wakan said she’d also like to put together an anthology of Nanaimo poets and inspire people to express themselves through creative outlets.

“I might be able to give something to Nanaimo just by encouraging people and saying it’s OK to do poetry,” she said.

Wakan is the first to say she loves words – and life adventures helped provide grist for her poetry and essays.

The poet met her second husband in Mexico and they spent years adventuring.

They sold their home and built an earth shelter because they wanted to see what it was like to live simply. They travelled the globe until their money ran out,  started up their own publishing house in Vancouver and eventually retired to Gabriola. They took risks on things they were curious about, not knowing if they would pan out, she said.

“You just have to trust the process and if you fall on your face – and we have been broke – you just adapt,” she said.

Wakan said she never imagined she’d be where she is today as an established author and the city’s first poet laureate. She is grateful to those that put her name forward.

Coun. Fred Pattje, chairman of the cultural committee, is looking forward to seeing how the new poet laureate position works.

Other communities have their own poets to help draw attention to culture and generate pride of place and that “is something we can do here,” he said.

“I think cultural activities in this municipality are underestimated and we have a huge pool of talent in this city,” he said. “I think a poet laureate could ... help expose some of that.”

The poet laureate position will be a three-year trial and pays $1,000 annually.

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