When there’s a rhyme, there’s a reason: Poet Laureate program in the works for Oshawa

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Published April 26, 2024 at 2:49 pm

Randell Adjei, Ontario's first Poet Laureate. Photo Lady Mensah

As a full-time councillor, part-time actor and major supporter of the arts in Oshawa, Rick Kerr knows the value of promoting the arts in the community.

And maybe – just maybe – having something like an official Poet Laureate in the city can continue to tweak the perception of a city once know exclusively for its blue-collar auto sector roots and now a diverse, inclusive community with its fingers in the education, tech and health care sectors.

Not to mention an already strong base in music and the arts.

“Poetry is spoken art. I think this could be a really good thing,” said the downtown Regional Councillor, who will introduce a motion Monday to set up a Poet Laureate program in the city.

“Anything to enhance the artistic side of Oshawa is a great thing,” Kerr explained. “Some people have a negative perception, and maybe this won’t make a difference to them, but others, including newcomers to the city, could have a different view of Oshawa.”

Plenty of Ontario cities have named a Poet Laureate to write poetry about their communities, compose poems for special events and act as literary ambassadors for the city and the feedback from those communities has been positive, with the program raising awareness of the arts and generating good-will in a variety of ways, Kerr noted.

Ideally, Kerr would like to see steps taken immediately and a Poet Laureate in place to recite a poem about Oshawa in time for the city’s centennial celebrations on Canada Day.

That may not be feasible, given the short turnaround, but perhaps a competition – a poetry slam, if you will – among several people interested in the post could be organized in time for Canada Day, with the poems serving as auditions.

“An open competition could be the way to go,” he said. “It’s never a bad thing to promote the arts in Oshawa.”

The likely outcome is, if the motion is approved, staff would prepare a report on the feasibility of the program, with action in 2025.

“That will be up to the will of council.”

April is National Poetry month, established in Canada in 1998 to celebrate poetry and its vital place in the nation’s culture. The provincial Poet Laureate program was established three years ago in memory of the late Gord Downie, a lyricist, poet and front man for the Tragically Hip rock band.

Ontario’s first Poet Laureate was Randell Adjei, a Scarborough art educator, spoken-word poet and author appointed to a two-year term in the spring of 2021.

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