Halifax Explosion anniversary committee seek award winning poet

Barry Cahill is a retired provincial civil servant (Photo: Fadila Chater)

(*** This is an original draft of the article published by The Signal***)

Canada’s newest parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke may be asked to produce an original piece of work to mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

The Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee met at NSCC Institution of Technology campus on Wednesday to discuss grant recommendations for local organizations who wish to participate in next year’s centennial.

Committee member Barry Cahill raised the motion for the committee to contact Clarke to see if he would be interested in having his work commissioned by HRM.

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

Clarke, native Nova Scotian and person of African-American and Mi’kmaq descent, is a nationally acclaimed poet and playwright. Clarke’s work offers a political and historical insight on the experiences of African-Canadians, particularly in Nova Scotia.

Clarke has won several awards and recognitions. In 2008, he received the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations from the city of Toronto. In 2001, he received the Governor General’s Award for his poetic anthology, “Execution Poems”.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Clarke is said to be writing historical poetry to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

Having read this article about Clarke’s interest in writing about the Halifax Explosion, Cahill said he immediately thought about contacting the poet to ask him to contribute his work in the community collaboration.

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In attendance at Wednesday’s meeting were committee members and staff. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

During the meeting, newly appointed committee member Dan O’Brien raised concern over whether asking Clarke to be commissioned by HRM would be inconsiderate to local poets. O’Brien said that Halifax’s poet laureate is to be announced this month, and commissioning Clarke’s work would possibly snub the new poet laureate.

“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.

In regards to O’Brien’s concerns, chairman Craig Walkington explained that there is no conflict of interest and that such matter should be left alone.

“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.

The committee concluded with the motion for staff to investigate the feasibility of HRM requesting George Elliott Clarke to commission a piece of art.

Cahill has known Clarke for over 20 years, having shared in an interest in the history of African Nova Scotians. In particular, James R. Johnston, who was the first African Nova Scotian to graduate with a law degree.

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

Cahill said that Clarke would have exclusive insight on how the Halifax Explosion impacted the African Nova Scotian community in Halifax.

“George is one of us,” Cahill said, “he knows the history, he’s interested in the history.”

The next committee meeting is scheduled for February 17th at a location yet to be announced.


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