Most poets struggle to emerge out of obscurity. Canada’s newest poet laureate can already claim to have literally left a gigantic imprint on the nation’s landscape.
Michel Pleau has not only won a Governor-General’s Award and published a dozen works of poetry, he also has a place on the map: An island in Quebec’s Caniapiscau Reservoir was named after a collection of his works, La traversée de la nuit.
On Tuesday, the Quebec City resident added another entry to his résumé. He will get an annual stipend of $20,000, plus up to $13,000 in travel expenses, to be the parliamentary poet laureate.
Mr. Pleau is the sixth poet – all but one of them male – to earn the honour. It comes with a lofty title but only a vague job description. This includes writing poetry, sponsoring poetry readings and advising the Parliamentary librarian. However, none of these tasks are mandatory.
Mr. Pleau, 49, was unavailable for an interview on Tuesday. However, Benoit Morin, who manages the Parliamentary poet laureate program, said Mr. Pleau was thrilled when he learned of his nomination before Christmas. “He was very honoured and at the same time very humble,” Mr. Morin said. “He was perfectly aware it wasn’t just an honour but also a responsibility.”
Mr. Pleau was among a dozen people nominated. The list was reduced to three before the final choice was made by the speakers of the Senate and House of Commons. Among Mr. Pleau’s qualities was his extensive work teaching poetry and mentoring young people.
Official languages commissioner Graham Fraser, a member of the selection committee, praised Mr. Pleau for the “limpid and accessible style” of his work, and his comfort speaking about poetry.
“There is a kind of clarity that comes through in his poems that I found very striking,” Mr. Fraser said in an interview. He said Mr. Pleau’s candidacy revealed a sense of his “commitment to being an ambassador for literature.”
In a statement, Senate Speaker Noël A. Kinsella said Mr. Pleau’s passion for poetry “will serve Canadians well as he draws upon his extensive experience to inspire others with his writing and teaching.” Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer said Mr. Pleau was known as a “generous author” who “takes genuine pleasure in discussing poetry with others.”
“He listens as intently as he writes and has influenced many other young writers with his humanity,” Mr. Scheer said.
When Mr. Pleau’s La lenteur du monde won the Governor-General’s Award for poetry in 2008, judges praised him for his “simple, moving images that go straight to the heart. He shapes words like a sculptor carves, with painstaking care, to give us moments of pure beauty and flashes of luminous landscape.”
For the 20th anniversary of Bill 101 in 1997, the province named islands after works by 101 Quebec writers, including Mr. Pleau.
The poet laureate’s term lasts two years and alternates between a francophone and an anglophone.