George Elliott Clarke

George Elliott Clarke Picture | Omniverse Project

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and the 7th Parliamentary/Canadian Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke is a revered artist in song, drama, fiction, screenplay, essays, and poetry. Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1960, Clarke is also a pioneering scholar of African-Canadian literature. A professor of English at the University of Toronto, Clarke has taught at Duke, McGill, the University of British Columbia, and Harvard. He holds eight honorary doctorates, plus appointments to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada at the rank of Officer. His recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Clarke’s work is the subject of Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato. But Clarke is also a librettist, and has had a hand in three operas: Beatrice Chancy (composer: James Rolfe), Québécité (composer: dd Jackson), and Trudeau: Long March / Shining Path (composer: dd Jackson).

He’s also released these recordings:
George Elliott Clarke: Lush Dreams, Blue Exile. Halifax, NS: Pottersfield Soundtracks, 1994. Tape.
George Elliott Clarke Koiné Opera (GECKO). Vicenza, Italy: The Art Box, 2017. CD.
The Afro-Métis Nation, Constitution. Toronto: The Afro-Métis Nation, 2019. CD.
His latest project? Vocals and lyrics for rapper Shad’s song, “Storm.”


History Prompt

Take a historical episode and write a poem about it from two opposing positions.

Craft & Writing

Craft & Writing Prompt

Take any canonical (official) poem and rewrite it, replacing many of the current words with those that arise from your own lived experience.


How do ya haggle with the barrage—bedraggling, disparaging—of everything that is nerve-racking, discomfiting, uncomfortable, severe?  Or raise up and laud everything that is beautiful, awesome, opulent, succulent?   Inexplicable is the transformation of the poet into the vox populi:  To speak Truth to oneself is to speak it for all!  To quote—as one must—the verses that verify one’s philosophy of life!  (You live your life and you write—or perform—your philosophy.)  Avoiding balderdash—and any click-bait for a rabbit-hole, a worm-hole, an intellectual trap.  Never let thy words ever be strictly Verboten.  Never let thyself be suppressed:  Your diction makes you a poet and your poetry makes you a voice!  (What is a poem, anyway?  It is your words brought to an intense and non-negotiable acme of vibrancy!)   Understand this point:  It be serious!  What you do as a poet is to take a portion of words (some thousands) outta the English language (or any other to which you have access) and use them as if—and in reality like—no one has ever used these words before.   Derek Walcott’s “swan” is not the same as W.B. Yeats’s “swan.”  Each poet uses the word differently—even if it is spelled the same way and sounds the same in each other’s verse.  Your like challenge?  To use even everyday articles-of-speech—like a or the—as if no one but you has ever used such words!  That’s how your I—as a poet—becomes individualized.  What we call voice is nothing but the choice of words a poet utilizes.  Your voice is your personal dictionary.  No one else can sound like you—nor will you sound like anyone else—the more you use the diction specific to your life.  In this way, so shalt thou triumph over even weaponized Bigotry and Ig’orance!  This is how even once-furtive Vehemence receives front-page attention! 

(O!  The Obscenity of Silencing!  The implications of Censorship, the gutturally illiberal irruptions of throat-stuffing, eye-blinding vomit—all be the essence of a vainglorious Illiteracy, a notorious delirium of Mediocrity—the farcical cusses of curs who yelp and yuk-yuk as they move a cursor!  So spurn the instigators of face-spitting—hawking ludic mucus—who seek  to shoot a poet down, to hoot a poet down!  Dey be so assiduously insidious!  So recklessly callous!  Avoid the untoward values of backward people!)

To speak truth for oneself?   How one tosses back the enemy grenades.  Say Me ne frego!  Take no guff!  Scrape out eardrums!  With a poem in hand, a song on thy lips!  To utter a poem is to disturb the universe!

Turn to ink—sable, saline, black tears—to pen a poem that’ll upstage stifling Conformity, the comforts available to sell-outs, toadies, Uncle Toms, Aunt Jemimas.  Please take thy due torsion—thy portion of language—to retort to chortling aspersions, contorted reportage (sordid as inglorious Propaganda).  Find thyself an overture, a theme, an aria—an impetuous epic, or even poetry ornate in style and strident in recitation.  How else to castigate ingrates?  To enact a transfusion of vocabulary into a viral operetta, dickerings that reveal luce e giustiziaLight and Justice—when both are shrouded because they are subject to Rescission (Revocation, Cancellation, Repeal)—if ever detected.  Always must thou be onorevole (honourable)….

(After all, everything is within the poem; nothing exists outside the poem; nothing is against the poem!  Therein circulates the atmosphere of Heroism!)

Who should be invulnerable to repercussions?  Who shoud be allowed to resuscitate McCarthyite twilight as a pretense of Rousseauvian dawn?  Who should be allowed to pronounce either horrors or panegyrics with the finality of artillery?  Say not the ruling-class!  Not the warmongers and the pettifoggers and the rapists of Mama Nature! 

Write in the shadow (and Enlightenment) of Zola, but also Bill Epton (if not Graham Greene); and never be obedient to Misery.  (Dare to show thy facetta nera—flaunt aggressive Charmvis-à-vis those who would discipline Dissent.)  Let thy pages enact consummate spasms of unanimous blackness, harmonious sable, i.e., the apogee of Indian ink versus all white-face Mendaciousness, so fanatically, charismatically dogmatic….  Love no Empire but thine own words—gleaned from family, school, books, media, news gossip, songs, jokes.  (It is your job to make that jive live—and thrive!)

Truths too flagrant to ignore must choke off vain ideologies!  Thus, ya annihilate parasites, their scatological monologues, their dialogues all doggerel, their static scheming in the broadcast booth!  Just because prepotenti (bullies) claim media passes don’t guarantee they ain’t shabby and disreputable.  Be so implacable a gibe, ya denounce cloistered, dank dignitaries; even gangs of piss-yellow-journalist whores! Thou mayest be cold-bloodedly accurate:  To dispel the mirage of Justice that drives the snarling, manic mob.  Thou must rage upon the page to then outrage the stage.

Sure, ya brood on Injustice—because poets brood—like martyrs.  Write work that asks—tasks—Performance—like Ginsberg’s Howl (1956).  Does it besmirch thy tongue?  Let it besmirch ears!  The vitality of thy language be never merely clinical.  To be like an Apollo—dazzling, baroque—is the aim!

And may you pen Rebuke:  The uncensored, incisive, derisive, energetically splenetic puke—against the gilded, scummy untruth—the gold-olive tint of gangrene and gonorrhea—that issueth outta organs of Dissonance.  Aye!  Protest all official bullshit, colossal lies, and pin-stripe-suited squalor?  Contest bunga-bunga and mago-mago!

Every righteous poem is a Poem Versus Silence, to be recited as Outrage versus corporate and government Propaganda.  (Bourgeois maligning of struggling peoples—such immeasurable ugliness—be malignant, high-pressure, inappropriate.)  Let thy Indignation know no opiate.  Let thy jangling be cordial to Truth

Because Performance is always the poem positioned—pivoting—against Silence.  It is the testament against repression, censorship, deletion, the gagging of Free Expression, Freedom of Speech.  Lest grave flames chew golden at scripture itself and libraries radiate smoke!  (It is thou who be called unto the Temple, the “Tower of Song” [Cohen]!)  Besides, no text is alive until it is voiced.  It is only ink until it is made to think out loud…. 

Performance Prompt

Draft a catalogue—a list of nouns (only):  This assembly of words—at least a page in length—will reveal to you your deepest concerns, interests, themes, leitmotifs….