The parliamentary poet laureate may be an obscure figure to some in Canada, crafting poems about the houses of government and the issues that impact their running.
But the current holder of that position, George Elliott Clarke, is an accomplished poet, with a lauded body of work, who is about to leap from Parliament Hill to concert stages worldwide. U2 has selected two of his poems to scroll across screens as concertgoers enter venues on their The Joshua Tree At Thirty tour.
“I believe that the purpose of the slow scrolling of the words from these poems is to encourage the attendees to reflect on the social political context in which culture happens, in which art, poetry and music get made,” Clarke told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton.
Clarke, Canada’s seventh poet laureate and a winner of the Governor General ‘s Literary Award for Poetry, says he was a fan of the band while in university, in part, because of the group’s humanitarian work, which he says is “extremely important.”
“I always appreciated the social conscience of the lyrics and also the stance that the band has taken on various global issues of great import,” he said.
Clarke was appointed to his position in January 2016. The parliamentary poet’s website lists 13 poems he has written since then, ranging from distinctly parliamentary poems such as one honouring a past parliamentary poet laureate or another celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to a December 2016 poem about the Senate:
Invention is craft; Improvement is art:
Honourable Senators, act this part.
“Sober second thought” isn’t partisan,
But, constitutionally, what is Canadian.
He’s also written about the death of Fidel Castro, carefully skirting the good and bad with lines like: “Farewell, farewell, ‘maximum leader.’ Hello, hello, free Cuban people.”
Clarke told Barton that his inspiration for Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?: A spiritual, a poem written after the Quebec City mosque shooting, was a need to respond spiritually to an act of violence associated with faith.
“I think that what the poem calls for is humility, simple humility, on the part of all believers of whatever faith,” Clarke said. “I don’t think anyone should feel they are so imbued with the divine that they can impose their beliefs on others. I just think that’s fundamentally inhuman, not to mention, probably, extremely bad theology.”
The Quebec mosque shooting is not strictly a parliamentary theme, at least not in the same way a poem about the Senate might be. But the incident in Quebec certainly gripped Parliament in its aftermath, and Clarke’s verse delves into the emotions of the event.
Best be scared of the Sacred!
Best be scared of…