We at Jacket2 happily take note of this news report — among others, of course — announcing the selection of Fred Wah as “parliamentary poet laureate” of Canada. The photograph here was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald.
Saskatchewan writer Fred Wah named parliamentary poet laureate Winnipeg Free Press, December 21, 2011
OTTAWA - Saskatchewan-born writer Fred Wah has been appointed as the new parliamentary poet laureate.
Wah is the fifth poet to hold the office.
He replaces Pierre DesRuisseaux, whose two-year term expired earlier this year.
The post was created in 2001, with a mandate to write poetry, especially for use in Parliament on important occasions, to sponsor poetry readings and advise the parliamentary library.
The poet is appointed by the Speaker of the Commons and Senate on the recommendation of a selection committee which included, among others, the commissioner of official languages and the head of the Canada Council.
Wah is a well-known poet who won a Governor General's Award in 1986 and is on the faculty of the Banff Centre for the Arts.
Note: This article by Martha King was based on a presentation she gave at a panel on Paul Blackburn, at the Poetry Project in New York, in 1991 [?]. Other panelists included Armand Schwerner, Edith Jarolim, Robert Creeley, and David Abel. (The references are to Edie Jarolim’s edition of Blackburn’s Collected Poems.)
When I told Basil [King] I’d been asked to talk on Paul at this panel he asked me what I wanted to say — we were walking down the street in our Brooklyn neighborhood — my answer popped out: ‘that strange hollow voiced singer of the city.’ On the theory that first thought might just be best, I’ll start there.
So why was my first thought “hollow.” It means empty in the middle. Like the woodwinds. Their sound comes from that. It’s a very old thing to think of a poet as a reed. Missing at the core. And therefore what is taken in will be released reverberating, as song.
But Blackburn’s been savagely critiqued for this quality. By people who have freely crossed the lines between reading the text and psychoanalyzing the writer. I mean even to the unbelievably grotesque suggestion — by Clayton Eshleman in his essay “The Gull Wall” — that Paul wouldn’t have died of cancer if he’d been able to overcome his negative feelings about women.
Jacket 15 included a many-part "Tribute to Kenneth Koch." Hilton Obenzinger's short memoir was among the parts:
“Did You Write Any Poems?”
In April 1968 students occupied six buildings of Columbia [University, New York] to protest the university administration’s complicity in the Vietnam War and their insistence on building a new gym in Morningside Park despite the objections of Harlem, the city government, faculty, students. With other writers from the Columbia Review I spent nearly a week in President Kirk’s office in Low Library before getting beaten up by the cops in the final bust. The days in Low Commune were deliciously utopian — with approximately 125 students making decisions through participatory democracy, changing the world by example — and dangerous, despite our stance of non-violence. The right-wing students charged the building several times, setting up a blockade to prevent the anti-war students from sending in supplies. Fists began to fly, and the scene around the building roiled with constant near riots.
The faculty decided to set up their own line in an attempt to prevent the situation from getting even more out of hand. Professors took turns standing on the lawn outside the building beneath the second-story windows to keep the right-wing students from charging Low Library and, attempting some parity, to keep the left-wing students from bringing supplies to the communards. It was not an easy time to be a professor at Columbia. To be arbiters, intermediaries between the students and the administration, was an impossible task during such polarization. After the “bust” bloodied over a thousand students, the faculty realized that the administration held them in almost as much contempt as they regarded the students, and most of them ended up joining the strike that followed the beatings and mass arrests.