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Toronto Poet Laureate Anne Michaels celebrates the city’s literary diversity

The position of Poet Laureate, which in Toronto is currently held by Anne Michaels, is like a blank page. The laureate has three years to fill it.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The position of Poet Laureate, which in Toronto is currently held by Anne Michaels, is like a blank page. The laureate has three years to fill it.

In the case of Michaels – who inherited the position from George Elliott Clarke, currently Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate, in December, 2015 – that meant organizing a series of events in situ held in places, such as the Don Valley that have inspired the city's artists over the years, and working with non-English-language writing and literary organizations to celebrate what she calls the "incredible language diversity in the city."

"That's also a literary diversity," says Michaels, the award-winning author of five collections of poetry, as well as the novels Fugitive Pieces and The Winter Vault. "We need to start thinking of it in those terms, because that richness is an incredible gift to the city."

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April is National Poetry Month and, to mark the occasion, Michaels was invited to read at Toronto City Council earlier this week. The poem she read, To Write, is reprinted ahead.

"It seemed like the right thing to read in City Council, because it speaks of what the power of words can be," she says. "I was able to stand in City Council and say, 'Poetry is insurrection. It's insubordination. It's defiance.' That's what poetry is. Poetry asserts. It's defiance against oppression, dispossession, indifference, amnesia of every sort, and has always been that, whether it's scrawled on a wall or written on a battlefield or whispered into the ear of a political prisoner or memorized to survive state censorship."

"It was very good to be reading it in that setting, because we need this assertion," she adds. "There's so much noise around us. Language is used with such promiscuity. We're experiencing a massive dose of opinion, and opinion is replacing thought. So we need this kind of speech more than ever."

Michaels will be hosting an evening of poetry on April 3 at 7 p.m. at the Toronto Reference Library, along with poets Phoebe Wang and Roo Borson.

Excerpted from All We Saw by Anne Michaels. Copyright (c) 2017 Anne Michaels. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved

To Write

because the dead can read

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because she thought everyone

came home to find their family taken

because the one closest to her cannot speak

because he drew love into him from each body he entered

because they are keeping her from him

because the last time they met he misunderstood her

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because a finger can hold a place in a book

because a book rests in a lap

because words are secrets passed one to another on a train

the same train where letters were crammed between slats

to be found by strangers

because they recognize each other over huge distances

because a true word, everywhere, is samizdat

because everything political is personal and not

the other way around

because forgiveness is not about the past but the future

and needs another word

because the true witness of your soul

is sometimes one you've scorned

because it is possible to be married to someone who died

many years before we were born

because he painted the intimate objects of their life together

not from observation but from memory; though surrounded

by the teacups, the flowers, the garden, he retreated

to his small room to paint, each object transformed

by love

because words are mirrors that set fire to paper

because every day she risked her life for him

because he remembered this too late

because he was mistaken

because he was certain

because certainty and doubt consume each other like dogs

in a parable

because of a Sunday morning in London

because of a cemetery in Wales

because of a mountain and a river

because he imagined himself an orphan

because an infant cannot carry herself

because of drawings on fax paper

because she sends her SMS with broken thumbs

and an empty battery

because to be heard we do not need a pencil and we do

not even need a tongue and we do not even need a body

because the one who holds the pen, even if it's too dark to

see the page and even if the ink is his own blood, is free

because an action can never be erased by a word

because we set down what we cannot bear to remember

because we cannot take back what we sang

because the dead can read

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About the Author
Books Editor

Mark Medley is the Globe and Mail’s Books Editor. Prior to joining the paper he spent more than seven years at the National Post, where he served as an arts reporter and books editor. More


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