A Gala Celebration with Canada's Poet Laureate

April 3, 2018

Thursday, April 5, 2018, 1pm

Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Presented by Wordstorm Society of the Arts

Canada's Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke with Vancouver Island's Poet Laureates.


The purpose of a Poet Laureate is to serve as a "people's poet". The Poet Laureate raises the profile of the local literary arts by creating and presenting works that are relevant to the life and culture of our city.




George Elliott Clarke was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, near the Black Loyalist community of Three Mile Plains, in 1960. A graduate of the University of Waterloo (B.A., Hons., 1984), Dalhousie University (M.A., 1989), and Queen's University (Ph.D., 1993), he is now the inaugural E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto.


An Assistant Professor of English and Canadian Studies at Duke University, North Carolina, 1994-1999, Clarke also served at the Seagrams Visiting Chair in Canadian Studies at McGill University, 1998-1999, and as a Noted Scholar at the University of British Columbia (2002) and as a Visiting Scholar at Mount Allison University (2005). He has also worked as a researcher (Ontario Provincial Parliament, 1982-83), editor (Imprint, University of waterloo, 1984-85, and The Rap, Halifax, NS, 1985-87) social worker (Black United Front of Nova Scotia, 1985-86), parliamentary aide (House of Commons, 1987-91), and newspaper columnist (The Daily News, Halifax, NS, 1988-89, and The Halifax Herald, Halifax, NS, 1992-). He lives in Toronto, Ontario, but he also owns land in Nova Scotia. His many honours include the Portia White Prize for Artistic Achievement (1988), Governor-General's Award for Poetry (2001), the National Magazine Gold Medal for Poetry (2001), the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award (2004), and the prestigious Trudeau Fellow Prize (2005).




Tina Biello was selected for her strong connection to the artistic community and passion for the arts.  She has a great vision and plan for her new role as Nanaimo’s Poet Laureate and is very keen and excited to engage the mainstream community in poetry.   As a published poet who has done readings in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Fanny Bay, Montreal and Italy, she has seen firsthand the importance of getting poetry to more of the population. Most people who attend readings are already poetry aficionados, but Ms. Biello would love to see more people appreciate the power of poetry.   


Ms. Biello understands the importance of collaborating with other art forms through her experience working with other artists. She also worked with composers and has even had her poems composed into music.




Kailey DeFehr has been named as Nanaimo’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate. She learned to further develop her craft through the Creative Writing Department at VIU and has already participated in many of the City’s poetry initiatives.  She brings with her a strong connection to the poetic community and some strong ideas for her term as our first Poet Laureate. Her goal to extend her passion to other young poets within the community, to help them find or rediscover a voice that matters: their own.  Poetry has a tendency to be undervalued, and Ms. DeFehr believes that young poets may have a difficult time admitting in today’s world how much we love and appreciate this ancient form of communication.

It is her hope to bring the young poets together; not to become the best or the most brilliant but just to share, for the fun of it.   Just to provide a voice or create the opportunities for other young poets in Nanaimo because all art forms are beautiful, as are the people who make them.


Reaching “a variety of youth” populations and encouraging peer to peer education and inspiration, the Youth Poet Laureate will pave the way for future youth to engage on a civic level through their artistic voice.



Yvonne Blomer, Writer, critic, teacher and poet, Yvonne Blomer was born in Zimbabwe, and came to Canada when she was two years old. With her husband she has taught in Japan, cycled through Southeast Asia, and lived in the UK, where she completed a Masters in Creative Writing with Distinction at The University of East Anglia. Yvonne is proud to be serving as the Poet Laureate for the City of Victoria, BC, and is the Artistic Director emeritus of the Planet Earth Poetry reading series.






 We're pleased to introduce Agartu Ali as Victoria's 2018 Youth Poet Laureate. Her appointment was officially announced at the January 25, 2018 Council meeting, where she read her poem "Statistics". Agartu Ali is Victoria's 6th Youth Poet Laureate.

Agartu Ali is a 15-year-old spoken word poet who is a Grade 10 student at Victoria High School.  For as long as she can remember, poetry has moved her emotionally and motivated her to be an advocate for change in her community. Ali volunteers at numerous local elementary schools and community organizations and often uses poetry as a vehicle to connect with her community.


While she is not yet a well-known face in the larger poetry scene, Ali believes this anonymity gives her an approachability that she plans to utilize in this position. She hopes youth will see themselves in her and that she can learn alongside them.


“My vision is to bring the many different cultures and people of Victoria together,” said Ali. “With my roots in the refugee and immigrant sector, and my love of the written and spoken word, I believe I harbour the dedication and resources needed to make this vision a reality. I hope to provide an outlet for youth to express themselves by writing what is beautiful, what is painful and what is real.”




Natalie Nickerson was chosen Laureate on March 10, 2017 following a search organized by Comox Valley Arts, your regional arts council. She will serve a two-year term, until March 2019.


She has great respect for amphibians since those creatures worked hard to keep her alive in those early springs by eating as many of those blood-suckers as they could. Now, in her forties with those near-death experiences far behind her, Natalie finds her inner landscape reflective of the one she grew up in: beeswax calm, tigerlily quiet, free as a blue sky and wild as a thunderclap. Raising her daughter on blackberries and wonder in the Comox Valley has been the cherished focus of Natalie’s adult life. She relishes the beauty around her and writes about it often.



Having recently graduated from Vancouver Island University with a teaching degree, Natalie is now excited to further artistically explore the concepts that she found most inspiring during her education: ambiguity, for instance; what benefits can we glean from cultivating a tolerance for ambiguity?  She feels that in exploring inquiries of this nature she will discover fruits capable of enriching anyone who encounters their expression in whatever form that may take, be it a poem, a sculpture or a carefully prepared meal. She looks forward to her role as Poet Laureate and the platform it offers for engaging the public in deep inquiry and poetic expression. She believes that everyone is a poet since poems are the expression of the vital force that courses through us all. Call it soul, call it spirit, call it what you will, though the quiet and cracked voice may not have spoken since childhood, it is never too late to speak, to be heard.

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"Nanaimo Arts Council acknowledges with gratitude that we are on the traditional and unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation."