This website is operated by Deirdre Kessler in her capacity as Poet Laureate of Prince Edward Island.

Acknowledgements and thanks

Special thanks to David Helwig for initiating this site in January 2008; also to past laureates Hugh MacDonald and Dianne Hicks Morrow for their many contributions.

Unless otherwise stated, all rights to text, audio, or video versions of poems on this site are reserved by the author.


The site is designed and maintained by Ken Simons using the Textpattern content management system.

The Textpattern editor uses plain text — formatted with the minimalist Textile markup language — rather than highly styled HTML.

As of April 2016, the site has been extensively modernized, offering full smartphone and tablet compatibility and compliance with disability access standards. (see below for more information).

Here are some common user issues and their solutions:

  • Poems will display differently depending on the width of the browser being used. In particular, lines of text will wrap on small devices such as smartphones.
  • We use style rules to create the effect of indents. These are calculated in ems (a variable measure which depends on the font being used). This gives a good result on visual browsers which support stylesheets,
  • All our audio and video is now viewable on platforms which do not use Flash; your browser will detect whether you require the Flash or the non-Flash version. If neither version runs automatically on your device, there is also a download link. File types are mp3 for audio and mp4 for video.


For partially sighted users who use screen reader software, alternate navigation links are given at the beginning of each article. These links are also useful for text-only browsers such as Lynx.

Relative font sizes are used to assist those who use larger font sizes by default. We have attempted to make the site easily navigable for users with motor disabilities, but welcome your comments if any problems are encountered.

Past poets laureate: David Helwig

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



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



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


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.


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.

Categories About the Poet Laureate

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.



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.


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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