Naomi Wakan, a former psychotherapist turned author, artist and poet, has been laying the groundwork for a new generation of poets during her tenure as Nanaimo’s first poet laureate
On October 21, 2013, Nanaimo’s city council approved Naomi Beth Wakan as Nanaimo’s first Poet Laureate for a three-year term (2013-2016). The purpose of a Poet Laureate for Nanaimo is to serve as a “people’s poet” and to raise awareness of poetry and the literary arts, and the positive impact literature and poetry can have on community life.
Naomi generated and led a range of initiatives, including a Poetry Map, and a Poetry in Transit project. The theme was “Riding the Bus.” Poets contributed works that were in some way related to a particular point on a route, a site in Nanaimo or the experience shared while riding the bus.
Earlier this year, Naomi initiated a high school poetry competition to encourage youth to try writing poetry. The contest was open to students in Grades 10 to 12. “I did want them to know what it is like to feel like a poet and write…just what it means to be a person devoted to the creative life,” Wakan told the Nanaimo News Bulletin.
Naomi Wakan’s artistic statement
Naomi Wakan at the Nanaimo Bar NONE Variety Show on March 14, 2015
I had no idea when I started writing poetry as a frustrated housewife in the 1950s and 60s that I would end up as Poet Laureate of a small city. Looking back, I have no idea why I chose poetry over macramé or watercolour painting to vent my despair.
There were many years with my second husband when the idea of writing poetry never appeared on my horizon. When I started to write again it wasn’t as catharsis, but because, after living in Japan for a couple of years I was hooked into my childhood love of penmanship, in this case shodō, Japanese calligraphy, and, on its trailing strokes came haiku, a poetry form that captured me for the next many years. Soaked in the haiku world, I came across tanka, 5-line Japanese poetry form and, having felt I had lingered long enough with sensing-focused haiku, I moved to tanka which allowed my intellect and feelings to overtly display themselves.
All this while I had written the odd longer poem, when it took me over, and had also published many personal essays. Putting the two forms together I invented Espoe – essays with poetry embedded in them. After more than fifty books, I see my writing life has been a long, wonderful journey, mixing with many writers and artists and loyal readers. I hang in because I am curious as to what my pen will offer me next.
We speak with Naomi Wakan and with Chris Barfoot, culture and heritage coordinator for the City of Nanaimo.
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