Poet laureate brings First Nations’ voice to city

Janet Marie Rogers will serve three-year term as the city’s literary and cultural ambassador

Victoria's poet laureate Janet Marie Rogers

Victoria's poet laureate Janet Marie Rogers

young leaders

look to their elders

with split-heart questions

knowing traditions live in more

than one realm

sung in harmonies

over-lapping memories

blending and sending

positive waves washing back

three life-times away

– excerpt from Change-Makers, by Janet Marie Rogers, read and dedicated to the mayor and council on Jan. 19

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Janet Marie Rogers was announced as the Capital City’s poet laureate Thursday. She will serve a three-year term, and is the third poet to serve as the city’s literary and cultural ambassador.

Rogers is a Mohawk writer from the Six Nations band in southern Ontario. A Victoria resident since 1994, she hosts Native Waves Radio on CFUV 101.9 fm and Tribal Clefs on CBC Radio One.

Rogers learned of the opening by accident and applied as an experiment, she said, “just to see how my poetry would stand … and see if people are on to these new forms of where poetry lives and how poetry lives.”

While she has published poetry, she also works in video poetry.

“I really like to draw from the native heritage,” she said. “I find it’s so rich and vast in the things that you can address. It lends itself well in all the poetry genres, like in the erotica, in the political, in the romantic. I like to talk about the indigenous identity.”

Her new civic duties include writing at least three new poems each year about ideas or issues pertinent to Victorians. Rogers will also recite work at city events, such as the Victoria Book Prize Awards.

On Thursday, city council agreed to continue funding the position at $3,500 annually.

Hearing the poet speak, however, proved more contentious to one new councillor.

“I don’t mean disrespect to the literary or the artistic community, but it hasn’t sat 100 per cent well with me that we make the first agenda item of every council, this poetry reading,” said Ben Isitt. He questioned giving “top priority to a matter not immediately pertinent to city business.”

Council agreed to postpone the issue for another day. Coun. Pam Madoff, however, had this response: “I relish the opportunity to have the discussion.”