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Poetry and Me: After the Hart House Poetry Panel

Edited by Sophia Savva

When I was in grade four, I heard a poem that I can still recite to this day. It’s called “Dirty Dog Boogie” by Loris Lesynski, a wonderful Canadian children’s author and poet. The poem ends with the repetition of a fantastic phrase: “Always keep a bit of boogie going in your head.” We read it in class, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. My grade four teacher, Ms. Muir, was a poet herself, and she placed a heavy importance on the presence of poetry and music in her classroom. When we weren’t reading poetry, we were listening to the music of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and Bob Marley. 

I met Loris Lesynski a couple of times when I was younger, and was convinced that she had the greatest job in the world. She wrote multiple books of children’s poetry and illustrated many of them. Once, she gave me three little notebooks with the words “Delaney’s Ideas” on them, and told me that I should always bring one wherever I go, and if I come up with an interesting idea, I should write it down, because I might be able to use it in a poem.

I did this for a while, but as I got older, I grew more and more distant from the idea of poetry, and closer and closer to the idea of music. I decided to take up the saxophone when I was eleven. I loved it so much that I ended up auditioning to Cawthra Park Secondary School’s Regional Arts Program, where I studied music for four years. 

I still listened to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and I enjoyed reading a good poem from time to time, but my life was about learning the art of music. However, the impact that these two incredible women had on me when I was in elementary school still lingered.

Now, I am in the Vic One program at Victoria College. Being in the Northrop Frye stream, most of these courses are related to literature in some way or another. One of my courses this term happens to be a poetry course with Professor Adam Sol. I was definitely looking forward to it, as I hadn’t studied poetry since grade four. What I didn’t realize was how much I was going to enjoy the course, and how quickly I would begin to love poetry again.

I decided to attend the Hart House Poetry Panel: From Passion to Page, which was organized by the Hart House Literary and Library Committee, once I learned that my friend Grace Ma would be moderating it and that Professor Sol was going to be a speaker. The two other speakers were poets George Elliott Clarke and Liz Howard. 

George Elliott Clarke, Liz Howard, and Adam Sol at The Hart House Poetry Panel: From Passion to Page. Photo taken by Terese Pierre.

This was the second time I heard George Elliott Clarke speak this year, the first time being at a Vic One Plenary session. I am so glad I got the opportunity to hear him speak for a second time, because it confirmed the things I had felt about his poetry. I love it. 

His work combines the witty wordplay that I love so much about poetry with the rhythmic intensity that I love so much about music. Hearing him perform his pieces live is an experience in itself, and it really made me realize how much I love the art of poetry. It reminded me of why I loved that poem back in grade four. 

Here’s what Dr. Clarke had to say about being a poet:“There are so many ways to be a poet. Poetry is going to get written in the way the poet will write it. This is the Neanderthal art. It is the first art. It will always survive.” 

Grace concluded the panel by asking each speaker what advice they’d give to aspiring poets, and to do it in only one sentence. 

Liz Howard’s advice: “Run.”

Adam Sol’s advice: “Follow relentlessly what you love.”

George Elliott Clarke’s advice: “The most important thing is that you be fearless in speaking what you know to be true.”

Am I a poet? Not really. Would I like to try my hand at writing poetry again? After the panel, absolutely. 

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