Victoria shows poetic innovation

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Victoria will soon crown its first youth poet laureate, which may also be the first in Canada. One young, talented applicant will have the opportunity to use poetry to engage and empower youth in the community.

Local poet Jeremy Loveday, Victoria’s reigning slam champion, said the idea synthesized through his work with talented youth poets throughout the city and through performing with Victoria’s adult poet laureate, Janet Rogers, who is currently one year into her three-year term as the city’s literary ambassador.

“We have amazingly talented youth poets, and Victoria should know that. It gives another platform for youth to speak and for Victoria to hear about the youth experience living here, to give official recognition of it,” says Loveday, who offers poetry workshops to high school students through the Victoria Poetry Project and holds an annual youth poetry slam event called Victorious Voices.

He brought the idea to the Victoria Youth Council last spring.

“We had the mayor as a judge for Victorious Voices last year, so it was like . . . the city loves it,” Loveday says. “So I got in touch with [a] youth councillor.”

Made up of individuals between 14 and 24 years old, the Victoria Youth Council represents the city’s younger generation and provides an opportunity for them to engage on a municipal level, says the council’s co-ordinator, Kluane Buser-Rivet.

“[The youth poet laureate program] raises the profile of youth poetry in the city of Victoria, and it’s really valuable to give adults access to a really strong, powerful young voice,” says Buser-Rivet.

She adds, “The youth council tries to achieve little successes that will eventually add up to our end goal to make Victoria the best place for young people to hang out, go to school, work. We see this as a step in the right direction, for sure.”

The selected poet will perform his or her work at city council and youth council meetings, as well as community events. The poet will also come up with a project to connect youth in the community through poetry and carry out the project during the position’s one-year term, from January to December 2013.

“We want a youth poet with leadership capabilities and a desire to engage other youth and be a voice for youth in Victoria,” Loveday says.

Young people will feel empowered by seeing a person their age being celebrated and embraced in the community — that’s how the youth poet laureate will be a leader, says Buser-Rivet.

Victoria City Councillor Lisa Helps heard the idea through Loveday, whom she met after a city council meeting where he performed. She presented the idea in a city council meeting, and Victoria City Councillor Shellie Gudgeon quickly offered $2 500 in funding through Il Terrazzo, a local restaurant Gudgeon owns with her husband, Mike.

“Both of our children have been positively impacted through poetry, and we feel that it should be celebrated and encouraged in our youth,” says Gudgeon, who also expresses an appreciation for Janet Rogers’ work.

Buser-Rivet says Gudgeon’s donation covers two-thirds of the needed funding, providing the youth poet laureate with a $1 500 honorarium and $1 000 for the project. They are still looking for $900 to cover a $750 honorarium for the mentor who will be supporting the young poet and $150 for a youth council alumnus to create the poster for the initiative.

“The momentum has just been incredible,” says Loveday.

In his high school days, Loveday was inspired by his English teacher to start writing poetry. He says the youth poet laureate initiative and the youth poetry slams he organizes today are outlets he would have liked to be a part of at that age.

For the program’s first year, Loveday will be taking on the role of mentor for the youth laureate.

“I think the relationship will depend on who the youth poet laureate is and what their projects are. It’s really [about] having an experienced poet who they can come to. I love working with youth and find it inspiring . . . so part of that is just sharing that inspiration,” he says.

Youth poet laureates exist in cities throughout the U.S., but Loveday couldn’t find any in Canada — at least not through Google.

“If there is [one] in Canada, they do a terrible job of promoting themselves,” he quips.

Buser-Rivet feels the lack of an apparent Canadian youth poet laureate is a sign of a greater issue: that youth don’t often have a big enough voice in the community.

“At least, not to the degree that the youth council would like to see them involved. For example, we don’t think there’s enough of a youth voice in municipal politics. Especially in Victoria — we don’t feel youth are consulted enough in processes and policy-making that will affect our future,” she says.

Poets have a unique opportunity to express and reflect on the happenings in the community, says Loveday. “That also comes with great responsibility, but I think putting something in a beautiful way makes people more open to hearing it.”

The City of Victoria is accepting applications until Nov. 7, and anyone 21 and under can apply by sending in three original poems, a letter of intent including three project ideas and a resumé to youthpoetlaureate@cvyc.net.

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