Historian wants poet Clarke for Explosion anniversary

A committee planning the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion heard support for a piece by poet George Elliott Clarke

George Elliot Clarke recites poetry in Nathan Phillips Square during the opening of the 2015 Pan American Games
George Elliot Clarke recites poetry in Nathan Phillips Square during the opening of the 2015 Pan American Games   Harvey K/Flickr

Halifax should commission George Elliott Clarke, Canada’s new parliamentary poet laureate, to create a piece for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, says a local historian.

Barry Cahill proposed the idea Wednesday at a meeting of the Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee.

Cahill, a committee member, said Clarke would have insight into how the 1917 explosion affected the African-Nova Scotian community.

“George is a very prominent African-Nova Scotian and a source of pride for everyone in this province,” Cahill said.

“George is one of us,” he added. “He knows the history.”

Clarke is a nationally acclaimed poet and playwright. His work offers a political and historical insight into the experiences of African-Canadians, particularly in Nova Scotia. He was recently named Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate.

Cahill said he thought about contacting Clarke after reading that the poet was writing historical poetry about the Halifax Explosion.

Dan O’Brien, another committee member, pointed out that Halifax is announcing its poet laureate soon. He wondered if it would be inconsiderate to commission Clarke instead of the local poet.

“My fear is if he would be stepping on toes. I’m worried about a conflict of interest between the Halifax laureate poet and us commissioning George Elliott Clarke,” O’Brien said.

Committee chairman Craig Walkington said there’s no conflict of interest.

“I don’t think George writing a piece and the Halifax poet laureate are mutually exclusive. One doesn’t exist at the expense of the other,” Walkington said.

In the end, the committee agreed to ask municipal staff to investigate the feasibility of getting Clarke to do a piece.

“If anyone would be approached to do this, George is the one,” Cahill said.

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