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A painting titled "Guardian" by Marlene Davis sets the back drop as current poet laureate Linda Rogers poses for a photo at home inside her living room in Victoria West. (Chad Hipolito/The Globe And Mail./Chad Hipolito/The Globe And Mail.)
A painting titled "Guardian" by Marlene Davis sets the back drop as current poet laureate Linda Rogers poses for a photo at home inside her living room in Victoria West. (Chad Hipolito/The Globe And Mail./Chad Hipolito/The Globe And Mail.)

Tom Hawthorn

Victoria searches for successor to the 'people's poet' Add to ...

The patrician figure in tasteful black rose from a pew in the nave, bowing in the direction of the altar before taking her place at the lectern.

Without introduction, she began to read, picking up where a predecessor had left off. Linda Rogers spoke the familiar words of Chapter 5 of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, the Sermon from the Mount. Blessed are the meek, etc.

Verily, I say unto you the reading exhibited her extensive experience in the elocutionary arts.

The audience in the cavernous and magnificent Christ Church Cathedral numbered just 11. She was reading during the dinner hour on Friday, the penultimate day of the cathedral’s week-long King James Biblethon. It was surely one of the smallest audiences the poet laureate of Victoria has faced in her tenure.

Ms. Rogers is nearing the end of a three-year term as a literary ambassador and “people’s poet.” The city is now canvassing for nominations for a successor. Applicants must be residents of Greater Victoria, have published at least two volumes (self publishing does not count) and must have written work “that demonstrates poetry richness and flexibility (be more than one style).”

Okay, first job for the next poet laureate – rewrite the eligibility criteria.

The winning candidate has to write at least three original works for each year of the term. In exchange, the laureate gets a $2,500 honorarium, guaranteed invites to swanky galas, and the future possibility of resting on one’s laurels.

The prolific Ms. Rogers has produced 27 poems for the city. She has visited classrooms, hospitals and seniors’ homes to encourage the creation of free verse and rhyming couplets, sonnets and haikus.

“More people who didn’t regard themselves as poets are now engaged,” she said.

A book of poems by schoolchildren celebrating the pending marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton was sent to the royal couple before their wedding ceremony.

In April, local poets wrote poems about downtown businesses, which then showcased the works in window displays.

Ms. Rogers also continued a popular program called Love, Poetry and Chocolate, during which the public is invited to contribute and read aloud romantic poetry. The event, held near Valentine’s Day, was launched by her predecessor, Carla Funk, who became Victoria’s inaugural poet laureate five years ago.

The city sponsors one of 18 poet laureate positions that exist in Canada, the most prestigious of which is the parliamentary poet laureate. Victoria is one of only three cities in British Columbia with an official poet laureate. New Westminster named its first in 1998 with Vancouver following suit four years ago.

Ms. Rogers, who says her antecedents include an abundance of lawyers, theologians and writers, including the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, is a ubiquitous presence on the local writing scene.

Alas, she has found the wedding of the spontaneous spirit of the poet with the demands of civic officials to not always be harmonious. She has found it difficult to accept some of the diktats issued by those who supervise the laureate. She said she was asked to look over any works to be read aloud by other writers at public events. What to city hall seemed like a prudent vetting, to the poet sounded like censorship.

She had hoped a legacy gift to conclude her term would be an anthology featuring the work of 30 local poets and visual artists, a volume the city could use as a protocol gift for visiting dignitaries. At the moment, the project has no publisher, though she vows to see it in print.

“I’ve failed Bureaucracy 101,” she said. “First course I’ve ever failed.”

Back at the cathedral, Ms. Rogers concluded her chapters by stating, “End of the reading.”

She stepped down from the lectern, retrieving a purse left unattended in the pew before heading for the door, where I caught up with her to ask what she took from the reading.

“I’ve been having trouble with bureaucrats,” she said.

She contemplated the reading she had just completed.

“Judge not lest ye be judged,” she recited.

Good advice whether from Matthew or anyone else.

Glass Half Full

Linda Rogers completes a three-year term as Victoria’s poet laureate at the end of November. Her most recent poem for the city is described as a caption for Tyler Hodgin’s playful Glass Half Full sculpture along the Dallas Road waterfront.

This poem, which shares its title with the sculpture, is displayed on a round plaque set in the ground, the words rotating clockwise in a spiral like water going down a drain. The poet has a whimsical idea for the city – perhaps manhole covers could be replaced by similar poetic plaques.

The circle keeps turning. This

is where spinning children find out

we are one drop of water in

sky becoming ocean, or earth,

what ever catches the I, eye, first

as we go round in the half-full

glass that never empties or fills,

in the song that never ends.

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