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The Globe and Mail

A poem for Jack Layton, by 14 Canadian poets

Jack Layton in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 24, 2011.

Dave Chan/dave chan The Globe and Mail

The writer Sonnet L'Abbé, who contributes frequently to Globe Books, sent us an unusual poem this week, with the following note:

"Upon hearing of Jack Layton's death, people all over the country began tweeting, texting and posting status updates of love, grief and mourning. It was as though everyone wanted to write their own mini-elegy to Layton.

"This outpouring prompted 14 Canadian poets to come together, each providing their own small line of textual tribute, to create this poem, which is their collaborative elegy to the NDP leader. We hope it speaks to the spirit of Mr. Layton and to the ideal of working together across political and geographic divides.

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"The poets are: Lori Bamber, Rachel Baumann, Karen Connelly, Adam Dickinson, Akin Jeje, Sonnet L'Abbé, Larissa Lai, Christine Leclerc, Tanis MacDonald, Sachiko Murakami, Billeh Nickerson, angela rawlings, Adam Sol and Rita Wong."

Here is their poem. We're sadly unable to match the formatting exactly, but we've done our best.

In Memory of Jack Layton by an optimism of Canadian poets

The night of Jack's passing, hundreds gather at the gallery – candles, songs, gratitude, grief. My own rapid aphasia but heart, heart. Rest, Jack Layton.

I tried to come up with something, but it just didn't work out. The man, brandishing his cane, suddenly/gone.

Ice in punchbowls on rooftops in Toronto. Love is better than winter speech breath bubbles. Love is better than women on vacation, better than anger. Hope is better than a headshot, or a Peace Tower.

They say his smile defined his politics. Out of optimism, out of an inward sunshine that took no rest. To refuse his opponent's foreclosure on the common good. In knowing that the growing front of culture war has no singular face.

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Who will stand up for me now?

We will wave canes as wands as tuning forks as white ribbons as rafters as olive branches. We renew our commitment to his life's work. We will wear smiles as deep breaths as shared tongues as porch lights as changes of fortune.

Same perfect goals, imperfectly pursued: Cheers in Tripoli, tears in Toronto. Hope is better than silk scarves, than super-powers, than paint-chips the colour of the butterfly-hour.

A final footstep, patent leather-clad, steady and graceful. From the faded cobblestones of Place Jacques-Cartier, from the leafy refuge of Hudson. He shall walk and walk and not feel the earth shift beneath his feet, he shall take easy air into his lungs, he shall be straight of back and great of heart, he shall not fall, nor stick, nor stumble; he shall move forward like a workman or a philosopher

don't go yet

the ones who need you still struggle to drown out the roar of greed

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a star fades to darkness only stardust remains

I met you once. We were at your house for an anti-violence thing. Lots of people in the kitchen. Your mother-in-law in slippers on the stairs. We sang loudly together, you and I, at that organ you had in the corner. We sang Hit the Road, Jack. What a cheeky note for an elegy! O, your brilliant orange orchestrations! We sang Hit the Road, Jack.

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