Past poets laureate: Hugh MacDonald

Hugh MacDonald was appointed Poet Laureate in December 2009, serving until January 2013.

Hugh MacDonald with granddaughter Zahra and Casper the cat. (Sandra MacDonald photo)

Poetry

At Merton’s Hermitage

Five poets sit
in a sort of symmetry
our awkward placement of hands
reading like young actors
unused to the stage
suspended somewhere between
giddiness and serenity.
How like boys we are
our casual shoes
our worn blue jeans
John B. somewhat
out-of-sync in green
our dew-stained cuffs
soaked while sponging
through full blown
wild Kentucky grass
after Gethsemane’s
massive breakfast of porridge
and eggs, jams and jellies
clumps of peanut butter
racks of perfect toast
steaming cups of tea
then, the air alive
with butterflies and gnats
Brother Paul
and Marty in the lead
John inquiring after
leaf and blade of grass
we stroll a swath
like Merton cut
through domesticated wild places
from the working monastery
to his Hermitage on the hill.
We look about inside
meditate on this concrete cell
that briefly housed
the soul that was his life
our gift the sharing
of his human frailties
his familiar temptations
his hypnotic soaring range of words
then we humbly sit at this shrine
while below us the long view
spans acres of wood and grass
the downward sloping field before
bends toward the world’s gate
our thoughts for the moment
temperate and peaceful
reflect the shimmer of summer
the shade tree beyond the porch
while behind us the empty bed
where Merton slept and didn’t
where within him wrestled
the love of internal peace
the turmoil of animal joy
the mad man-parts
that we all share
the saints we sometimes are
the beasts we can become
the blackened hearth
that conjures fiery pits
and writhing monsters
that we still smell today
separated by time and space
thankful for each garnered day
for light upon awakening
in dread of one last morning
that ends abruptly in darkness.

audio version

Chapbook

Audio

Events (and photos)

Press release on appointment

December 4, 2009
For immediate release

Poet, editor and novelist Hugh MacDonald of Brudenell is the new poet laureate for Prince Edward Island.

With nine books to his credit as author and editor, MacDonald is perhaps best known to Islanders through his Random Acts of Poetry which, for the past five years, have brought poetry to the streets and workplaces of P.E.I.

MacDonald retired after more than 30 years of service in the educational system of the province and, since 1999, has been a full-time writer. He has served on the executives of both the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts and the P.E.I. Writers Guild. Recognition for his work and leadership includes awards and prizes in the P.E.I. Literary Awards including the L.M. Montgomery Children’s Literature Award for Chung Lee Loves Lobsters, a first prize for poetry from the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.

In 2004, he was presented with the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island.

Carolyn Bertram, minister of communities, cultural affairs and labour, says MacDonald is an excellent choice for the position. “He has a dedication and energy and an enthusiasm for poetry which will certainly contribute to the mission of the poet laureate to bring poetry into the lives of Islanders,” she said.

MacDonald is looking forward to his term as poet laureate. He indicated that he felt honoured by the recognition and that he looked forward to exploring new ways of increasing knowledge of the importance of poetry. “I am delighted, in this poetry-blessed province, to be chosen as the next poet laureate. I will do my best to add a new voice to those of my extraordinary predecessors, Frank Ledwell, John Smith and David Helwig, and to do honour to my beloved Prince Edward Island,” said MacDonald.

The post of poet laureate does not have fixed duties and previous holders of the post have used a variety of approaches to making poetry a more central part of the lives of Islanders.

Bertram also paid tribute to David Helwig who has completed his term.

“I want to thank David Helwig for his service throughout the past two years as the Prince Edward Island poet laureate. The creation of the poetrypei.com website under Mr. Helwig’s direction has provided access to both creators and readers to P.E.I. poetry both past and present. I know he will continue to contribute to the literary heritage of our province.”

Past poets laureate: David Helwig

David Helwig was appointed Poet Laureate in January 2008, serving until December 2009.

Poetry

Negatives

A monochrome adventuring: the chemicals
spread on polymer and exposed to a flash of light
hatch this peephole’s-worth of look, but glimpsed in reverse,
black snow, slate skin, branches in ivory silhouette,

haunted snow-shadowed eyes, abstracted from the heat
and breeding and decay of the gaudy universe,
landscape pressed to the transparency of night,
air’s inversion of plenitude, volume to line,

all of it mediated, miniature, its code
freezing one sixtieth of a second transposed
into this misty creation, shades cast in light,
a black dove descending toward a field of ash.

As X-ray transparencies reveal what we hide
in the roots of our teeth, forsaken memories
display themselves to us in swirling flecked black smoke,
pigmentation abandoned, the rainbow spectrum.

A monochrome yesterday gleams in pure shadows
of design; sharpness of line and lucent texture
sketch in grisaille an architecture of the past,
your bare toes grey upon grey, outlined in silver

Audio

Events

Press release on appointment

Charlottetown, January 23, 2008

Hon. Carolyn Bertram , Minister of Communities, Cultural Affairs and Labour has announced the appointment of poet, novelist and essayist David Helwig, of Eldon, as the new poet laureate for Prince Edward Island.

Author of more than 20 books, mostly fiction and poetry, David Helwig has served on juries for the Canada Council, Governor-General’s Awards, Ontario Arts Council, Manitoba Arts Council, PEI Arts Council, New Brunswick Arts Council. He earned a B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1960, and an M.A. from the University of Liverpool in 1962. He has worked in journalism, TV drama, radio drama, as a university lecturer and since 1980 a full-time writer. He is the founder and long-time editor of the Best Canadian Stories annual. His most recent book of poetry “The Year One” won the Atlantic Poetry Award for 2004. He moved to Prince Edward Island in 1996.

Minister Bertram said she was pleased that Mr.Helwig agreed to serve as the province’s poet laureate for a two-year term. “Mr. Helwig is an excellent choice for the position,” she said. “He has a renowned national reputation and has made a major contribution to the literary culture of Prince Edward Island.”

Mr. Helwig said he was looking forward to his term as poet laureate. “It’s a great honour to be offered this position, and I hope I can use it to bring attention to Island poets.” The post of Poet Laureate does not have fixed duties and previous holders of the post have used a variety of approaches to making poetry a more central part of the lives of Islanders.

For more information, visit David Helwig’s personal website at www.davidhelwig.com.

Posted

History and objectives:

The Poet Laureate Program was established in Prince Edward Island in 2002.

Past Poets Laureate are John Smith (2002-2004); Frank Ledwell (2004-2007); David Helwig (2008-2009); Hugh MacDonald (2009-2013); and Dianne Hicks Morrow (2013-2016). Deirdre Kessler is the current poet laureate.

Objectives of the P.E.I. Poet Laureate Program include the following: to celebrate Prince Edward Island and its people, to raise the profile of Prince Edward Island poets and poetry in general, to promote a higher standard of literacy, and to provide for the expression of culture and heritage through the literary arts.

Background:

Poetry of excellence has been one of the great achievements of Prince Edward Islanders. Individuals such as John LePage, Larry Gorman and Lawrence Doyle were well-known in the 19th century. In the 20th century, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Milton Acorn are among the Islanders recognized for poetic ability. The creation of the post of provincial poet laureate helps to honour individuals who have made a major contribution to the literary life of the province.

The tradition of crowning poets with a wreath of laurel dates from classical Greece and became an institution in 1688 with the designation of the first British poet laureate. Since then, several countries, states, and cities have established the post. The custom honours the very best of poets and generally takes into consideration the whole writing career of an individual rather than one specific work.

Selection Criteria:

Selection of the Poet Laureate is based on criteria including the following: active and recognized as a poet of stature who has published at least one volume of poetry within the last ten years with a reputable publishing house, or whose body of work over the years has brought honour to themselves and the province, a full-time resident of Prince Edward Island and have been a resident of the province for at least the five years preceding the appointment. Poetry produced in either the English or French language is considered in making the selection of poet laureate but age, gender and ethnic background are not considered.

Past poets laureate: Frank Ledwell

Frank Ledwell was appointed Poet Laureate in December 2004, serving until December 2007. He died 14 August 2008, at the age of 78.

Poetry

Tranquility

When our children have gone at last,
we’ll go and live by the ocean shore
on the far side of the lake. We’ll cock our
ears to catch the surf’s crashing against
the dunes. Whenever the wind howls and
our electricity fails, as it surely will,
our kerosene lamp will make a glow
around our narrow space. We’ll wage war
at cards until the tide’s retreating — its
trumps all played out — draws us back
to serenity. I will be old, you still young,
or relatively so. We’ll munch on mussels
and dulse to keep healthy, and crush
lobster shells to fertilize our flower patch.
We’ll count the time that’s left to us
from day to day — not years. We’ll stay
till the time must come for us to cross.

Audio and Video

The recordings below are from the “Island Voices” DVD/CD set produced in 2006.


Frank Ledwell reading his poem “Moon and Cow” | Download ledwell-moon-and-cow.mp4

Press release on appointment

December 9, 2004
For immediate release

Province Appoints New Poet Laureate

Community and Cultural Affairs
The Honourable Elmer MacFadyen, Minister Responsible for Culture and Heritage, today announced the appointment of Prince Edward Island’s second Poet Laureate, Mr. Frank Ledwell.

“It is my pleasure to congratulate Frank Ledwell on his appointment as Poet Laureate for Prince Edward Island,” says Minister MacFadyen. “This appointment recognizes lifelong activities in the literary arts as well as constant encouragement of new and developing writers. This is an area in which Mr. Ledwell has certainly contributed a great deal to Prince Edward Island.”

The title of Poet Laureate dates from the 1600s, and many countries, provinces and cities have named poet laureates to celebrate poetry in their jurisdictions.

Frank Ledwell is the author of several books of poetry including The North Shore of Home, Crowbush and other Poems and Dip and Veer. He has had a major impact on many younger Island writers, both through his example and mentorship and also as a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Prince Edward Island. His poetry and sensitive prose have also been heard by many Islanders and visitors through his association with singers and performers in groups such as the trio “Crowbush.” Frank Ledwell has been honoured by his peers in the creative community by being named as the first recipient of the PEI Council of the Arts for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts.

“I would also like to take this time to extend our gratitude to Professor John Smith, Prince Edward Island’s first Poet Laureate,” said Minister MacFadyen. “Since his appointment in 2002, Professor Smith has worked to create awareness of poetry and of poets through a variety of readings and special events across the province.”

Past poets laureate: John Smith

John Smith was appointed PEI’s first poet laureate in December 2002, serving until December 2004.

Poetry

It is unbroken

It is unbroken though forsaken, set
in the tilt of trees toward the prevailing sun.
Not lost, though unregarded, spoken in buried syllables.
Now it rises, a slow star at midsummer,

almost breaks horizon, then glides submissively down
with another declining year. A ripple is enough
in the half-undreaming stillness of lustral places
not yet endowed, or a leaf that falling

meets its shadow on the ground
in a wilderness untraversed where a bird sings unseen.
Like nothing else. Like nothing. Scattered

naked in retreat before the nightmarch
of an alien horde that passes and does not return.
Or say it is you fondling one of a billion stones.

from Midnight Found you Dancing, Ragweed Press, 1986

Audio version

Audio and video

The recordings below are from the “Island Voices” DVD/CD set produced in 2006.

John Smith reading his poem “It is unbroken” | Download smith-it-is-unbroken.mp4


John Smith reading his poem “The world: further hypotheses” | Download smith-the-world-further-hypotheses.mp4

John Smith reading his poem “Sandra, 8 p.m.” | Download smith-sandra-8pm.mp4


John Smith reading his poem “Gates” | Download smith-gates.mp4

Press release on appointment

December 5, 2002
For immediate release

Province Appoints First Poet Laureate

The Honourable Elmer MacFadyen, Minister Responsible for Culture and Heritage today announced the appointment of Prince Edward Island’s first Poet Laureate, Dr. John Smith.

“Our province has a long literary tradition and a part of that tradition is how we express ourselves in poetry,” says Minister MacFadyen. “It is my pleasure to announce the appointment of Dr. John Smith to the post of Poet Laureate for Prince Edward Island and wish him well as he serves to promote poetry, Island poets and a higher level of literacy in this province throughout the next two years.”

The title of Poet Laureate dates from the 1600s, and many countries, provinces and cities have named poet laureates to celebrate poetry in their jurisdictions.

Dr. John Smith came to the province to join the faculty of Prince of Wales College in the 1960s and is the author of five volumes of poetry published over a twenty-year period. For many years, he taught English at the University of Prince Edward Island and is now Professor Emeritus. His stature as a poet is recognized across the country.

“Over the next two years, we will be working with Dr. Smith to create awareness of poetry and of poets, and I am very pleased that Professor Smith has agreed to serve,” said Minister MacFadyen.

Government’s action in creating this honourary post comes as a direct result of suggestions from the PEI Council of the Arts and the PEI Writers Guild.

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