If you've got a problem with Roland Pemberton, be prepared for a poetry battle.
An Edmonton rap star better known as Cadence Weapon, the 23-year-old is facing some raised eyebrows after being named his city's new poet laureate.
He's a rapper with two albums and an international following taking over from a 74-year-old professor emeritus who has published 19 collections of poetry. It's no matter. Cadence Weapon is prepared to redefine the role of poet laureate.
"Maybe I should have a poet battle. If people have beef, we'll see who has the illest prose," he said yesterday. "Who can do a poem about a flower better? I can make you feel like this flower is in your mouth, man. Delicate."
Mr. Pemberton read a new poem, Valley Girls, at his introduction ceremony yesterday. He's succeeding founding laureate Alice Major and E.D. (Ted) Blodgett, the professor. Both esteemed veteran poets, they're split on their new compatriot.
Ms. Major called it a "really interesting and wonderful appointment," saying that, as Cadence Weapon, Mr. Pemberton has probably sold more albums than she has books, while Prof. Blodgett said he "didn't think that this was how a poet laureate was to be defined."
Mayor Stephen Mandel enthusiastically backed the appointment, clearly designed to bring Edmonton poetry from book shelves to city streets.
"This guy will bring poetry to a whole new audience, and challenge the rest of us on our conventional perception of what it means to be a poet," he said. "I sometimes hear that young people aren't 'into' poetry, but Roland, as a musician or hip hop artist, will show them they really are into the art form - they just didn't know it."
Mr. Pemberton says he's excited about the two-year position, largely a ceremonial post that carries a $5,000-a-year honorarium. He spoke with The Globe and Mail Tuesday.
Globe: Tell me about when your friend approached you with the idea of nominating you for the post of poet laureate.
RP: He thought I would be well-suited for the position. He came to my house and I said: "OK, well, what does this really mean? I've never heard of it before." And then, when he actually did show me it, he explained: "Well, it's kind of what you do anyway." Looking at the definition of it on the website and everything, it seemed not totally incongruent with what I was already doing as a musician, which is talking about Edmonton, chronicling events that are happening. It's just a more official thing.
Globe: Did you have to be talked into going along with the nomination?
RP: Yeah. At first, I was like, "Well, I don't know. I never really considered myself a poet or anything."
Globe: What is a poet laureate?
RP: I'm thinking of it almost [as]a town crier. Basically, they see it as a chronicler of events, but to me I also want to be a representative of my arts community, which I feel is underrepresented in the mainstream press ... I want to be a springboard for other people.
Globe: How will your role change from that of other poets laureate?
RP: I think our approaches [as laureates]will be as different as our approaches to poetry. I don't consider poetry to be any specific form or stylistic decisions. It's not set in stone, and that's the same way I feel about any music I make.
Globe: Do you write rap, music and poetry separately?
RP: I've never been really into labelling myself. I don't like to really consider myself just a rapper. I would never call myself a poet, because the kind of people, you call yourself a poet, there's no chance you're a poet. It's like, "I'm a rapper." They're usually not. I feel like you're giving yourself too much credit. But there's no difference to me, the content. Making a poem, making a rap, it's the same process.
Globe: Do you read poetry?
RP: Not really. I mean, the people I am influenced by just in poetic verse and writing are kind of songwriters-slash-poet-type guys. Leonard Cohen or Neil Young. Bob Dylan. Lou Reed.
Globe: Do you see yourself as an ambassador for Edmonton?
RP: I think now it's more official. I always considered myself an ambassador to Edmonton, because I represent Edmonton everywhere I go. If I was just an asshole everywhere I went doing shows - kicking over speakers in Berlin - it doesn't really bode well for other Edmontonians.
Globe: Alice Major, the city's first poet laureate, said her role involved a lot of speaking at schools and Rotary Clubs. Have you ever been to a Rotary Club?
RP: I don't know what that is. What is a Rotary Club?
Globe: It's kind of like a Lions Club, or a legion. It's a community group, typically involving some older people.
RP: OK, well, I wouldn't be adverse to doing that.
Globe: What will you do?
RP: I'm actually going to be doing actual poetic performances, doing poems at public events… any event, even events people would not traditionally associate with poetry. I want to do them. Even if a summer carnival comes to town, I want to do a poem there.
Globe: Some of the poets laureate across Canada are a stodgier, tenured, grey-haired crowd. Some of them say it's supposed to be that way. It's supposed to be a veteran poet who can put their name to the art. What do you think?
RP: It's what you want to represent Edmonton. I travel the world performing a poetic strain of music already. I feel like I'm a published musician. I've put out multiple albums, I'm pretty well known. I feel like taking someone like me is obviously a conscious decision, because they know the kind of scope that I have... They're [Edmonton's]culture is broader than people give them credit for. It's not just old white dudes, and talking about hockey, or whatever. Like, it's more than that.