On December 20, 2011 in Ottawa, Fred Wah was appointed Parliamentary Poet Laureate by the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Andrew Scheer.
Mr. Wah is the fifth poet to hold this office. George Bowering (2002-2004), Pauline Michel (2004-2006), John Steffler (2006-2008), and Pierre DesRuisseaux (2009-2011) were the previous Poets Laureate.
“As a distinguished poet, editor, and teacher Fred Wah is known across Canada for his interest in a range of subjects,” said Speaker Kinsella. “Mr. Wah brings forth a collaborative approach and unique perspective to his work inspiring younger poets, students and others both nationally and internationally with his reflections on Canadian culture.”
“Fred Wah’s poetry is grounded in Canada’s political and social landscapes,” said Speaker Scheer. “He has done much to encourage and promote the importance of literature, culture and language within Canadian society.”
Fred Wah has chosen James Reaney’s poem “Granny Crack” as his first poem of the month. Wah admires Reaney’s focus on Southwestern Ontario as a site of inspiration: “He is an advocate of regional genius. When he was a professor at University of Western Ontario, his students had to know the local trees.”
I was a leather skinned harridan
I wandered the county’s roads
Trading and begging and fighting
With the sun for hat and the road for shoes.
You played a pigsty Venus
When you were young, old dame,
In graveyard or behind the tavern.
The burdock girl was your name.
She talked vilely it is remembered
Was a moving and walking dictionary
Of slang and unconventional language
The detail of her insults was extraordinary.
We dozen scoundrels laid you
For a quarter each in the ditch
To each you gave the sensation
That we were the exploited bitch
You saw me freckled and spotted
My face like a killdeer’s egg
When, berry-picking kids, you ran from me
Frightened down the lane by the wood.
They saw her as an incredible crone
The spirit of neglected fence corners,
Of the curious wisdom of brambles
And weeds, of ruts, of stumps and of things despised.
I was the mother of your sun
I was the sister of your moon
My veins are your paths and roads
On my head I bear steeples and turrets
I am the darling of your god.
James Reaney, 1959
James Reaney included “Granny Crack” in his play One-man Masque, which he first performed at Hart House Theatre, Toronto, on April 5, 1960, directed by Pamela Terry. The poem first appeared in print in The Killdeer and Other Plays in 1962.
For more about poet Fred Wah, see his 2009 interview with Robert McTavish in Journal of Poetics Research.