A Poet Laureate's role frequently revolves around responding to requests from the community for new work, often intended to mark important occasions or public events.
But what happens when a lot of those moments and gatherings have been placed on hold temporarily due to a pandemic?
“I am trying to not have any expectations because I don’t know what it is going to be like. We are on new ground with this pandemic,” says Sue Goyette, the Halifax-based poet, novelist, and Dal Creative Writing instructor named last week as the eighth Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) Poet Laureate.
Goyette follows a long line of former Poet Laureates with Dal connections, including present/past instructors and faculty members Shauntay Grant (2009-2011), El Jones (2013-15) and Afua Cooper (2018-2020) as well as alum Rebecca Thomas (2016-2018).
“I am going to stay present and connected to as many people as I can and listen to all their requests and look for potential ways that poetry may manifest to make a more meaningful, connective community,” she says.
Language and listening
Goyette has been teaching creative writing at Dal for 13 years, currently to fourth-year students.
“I love teaching creative writing,” she says, “I love my students. They are fabulous.”
She has published several books of poetry, including Penelope, a book-length poem that transforms the eponymous character, a secondary figure in Homer’s epic, Odysseus, to the main character. Her works have received numerous awards and recognition.
“I like language,” she says. “I like how words can convey things when they are put next to words you do not expect; how they can combust and how they can initiate or invigorate our thinking.” She adds, “I also think a lot about silence in my work and the act of listening, which I think is incredibly important both in community and poems.”
‘Art is essential’
The HRM created the Poet Laureate position to select an individual who will engage residents in literature, poetry and spoken word.
“It is a role that facilitates conversation and a more arts-based approach to thinking,” says Goyette. “So, I see myself in a role that creates an opportunity for everyone to think of poetry more in their day-to-day lives and as a way of expressing the inexpressible or things they think they cannot articulate.”
Goyette says she appreciates the significance of the HRM Poet Laureate program and her selection.
“It shows that the mayor and all the good people working for the HRM understand the importance, value, and meaningfulness poetry can bring to the community,” she says.
In announcing Goyette’s selection last week, Mayor Mike Savage said, “This proud municipal tradition, which relies on the written and spoken word to articulate the joys and struggles of our shared community, takes on new significance in these unprecedented times.”
Goyette echoes Savage’s sentiment.
“I think that during times like this [COVID-19 pandemic] art is essential — art is essential in all times,” she says, “but we are really reminded how essential and crucial art is to our wellbeing, to our mental health and our good spirits.”
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