George Elliott Clarke
All books are merely delayed dust. - George Elliott Clarke
About George Elliott Clarke
George Elliott Clarke is a skillful, candid writer whose output incorporates poetry, screenplays, opera libretti and verse drama. His poems are highly politically engaged, addressing issues, including those pertaining to race and identity, in ways that are both collective and subjective, both widely-applicable and firmly contextualised. Having coined the term ‘Africadian’ (a portmanteau of African and Canadian) to describe his own position, Clarke has been a driving force in the promotion of Canadian writers of African descent, and in the naming of elements of the Africadian experience, a vital intervention in the Canadian literary canon that prompted the 2012 anthology Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke. As this coinage would indicate, Clarke is linguistically and formally adventurous within his poetry, turning to a variety of genres and mediums for inspiration. In ‘King Bee Blues’, for example, Clarke uses the structure of a Blues lyric form to shape his wry text on romance and sexual politics (‘I’m an ol’ king bee, honey/Buzzin’ from flower to flower’), while elsewhere he invokes traditional set forms, as in ‘Ballad of a Hanged Man’, where the words of a condemned prisoner are communicated – tenderly, frankly – via narrative song.
Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate 2016-2017, Clarke was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, near the Black Loyalist community of Three Mile Plains, in 1960. Today he lives in Toronto, Ontario. He is the author of sixteen poetry collections, including Whylah Falls and, most recently, Canticles I (MMXVII), as well as two novels, George & Rue and The Motorcyclist, and – true to Clarke’s interdisciplinary approach – a CD, George Elliott Clarke Koine Opera (GECKO). Schooled at the University of Waterloo, Dalhousie University and Queen’s University, Clarke is now the inaugural E. J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. Prior to this posting, Clarke taught at both McGill University and Duke University. He was a visiting professor at Harvard University, 2013-14. In addition to his distinguished career in academia and the arts, Clarke has also worked as a social worker, a parliamentary aide and a newspaper columnist. This range of experience clearly shows a poet who is engaged with local and national communities, and with international developments.
Indeed, this comprehensive outlook can be seen to inflect Clarke’s poetic output and the politics he espouses. Among Clarke’s favourite quotations is French philosopher and activist Simone Weil’s statement that the poet ‘makes Beauty by pondering the Real’. In keeping with his characteristic wit and roving intelligence, Clarke places this reference alongside Robinson Jeffers’s claim that ‘Beauty … is the sole business of poetry’, in this way asserting a view of the writing and reading of poetry as being bound irrevocably to public life. Clarke’s strong and earnest delivery of his work in these recordings is irrefutable proof that, in line with Weil’s beliefs, engagement with ethical concerns within poetry does not constitute an opposing force to aesthetic quality. In Clarke’s work, rather, the two can be seen to combine in a rare splendour.
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive at Morph Productions in Toronto, on 21st April 2017.
Poems by George Elliott Clarke
Whylah Falls, 1991 Archibald Lampman AwardPrize website
Beatrice Chancy, 1998 Bellagio Centre Fellowship (Residency)Prize website
Execution Poems, 2001 Governor-General?s AwardPrize website
2002 National Magazine Gold AwardPrize website
George & Rue, 2006 Dartmouth Book AwardPrize website
Blues and Bliss, 2009 Eric Hoffer Book AwardPrize website