Young poets have a new role model.
Twenty-two year old Kailey DeFehr is stepping up to the podium as Nanaimo’s first-ever youth poet laureate.
“I was really surprised and honoured for sure,” said DeFehr, who’s been writing poems since her pre-teens.
“I think it’s a chance to sort of reach out to youth and encourage them in writing poetry if they are interested in it and maybe spark interest in a few people who maybe could be interested but not exposed to it as much.”
The City of Nanaimo announced two new ambassadors for the literary arts – DeFehr and its second poet laureate Tina Biello, a first-generation Italian Canadian with three books and a mission to raise the profile of poetry and her new role.
The poet laureate program was launched in 2013 as a three-year trial and Chris Barfoot, city cultural coordinator, said it’s been a big success. The program enhances the profile of the literary arts in Nanaimo and showcases Nanaimo as the cultural capital that it is, he said.
The city is now adding a youth poet laureate, a one-year position to inspire more youth to get involved in a civic program and feel comfortable and supported in Nanaimo. DeFehr, one of three applicants, stood out as a mature poet, according to Barfoot, who said she’s participated in city initiatives, like Poetry In Transit, is connected to the poetry community and came highly recommended by the inaugural poet laureate Naomi Beth Wakan.
“Kailey had some fantastic ideas of projects that she wanted to implement, she has the ability to reach out to other poets of that age, but again she’s connected to the greater poetry community so we’re looking forward to see what she can achieve as our inaugural (youth) poet laureate,” Barfoot said.
DeFehr, born and raised in Nanaimo, is a dental assistant and Vancouver Island University creative writing student. She hopes to be someone for youth to run ideas by or ask questions to, and she has ideas of starting a poetry writing group, or creating a tree hung with poetry. This kind of opportunity is fantastic, she said, adding it would have been “awesome” to have a person to look up to in high school.
Biello, 44, is a Nanoose poet who has published three books: A Housecoat Remains, and an English and Italian version of her book In the Bone Cracks in the Wall, with stories based on her parents’ village in Italy.
“It’s one of the art forms that really goes to the heart,” Biello said of poetry. “People who write poetry are usually writing about their own stories and it’s a way to reach out with heart and touch somebody and communicate and that’s what I love about it, is how it can impact a person.”
Biello, who’ll take the torch from Wakan, knows she has big shoes to fill, but is excited to get going, get poetry mainstream and have people think of poetry as accessible. That it’s the inaugural year for youth is also exciting for Biello.
“I just think that it’s really good to connect youth with poetry. I’m really excited to work with Kailey and see where she’s at,” she said.
The poet laureate gets a $1,300 honorarium with $200 in project funding each year, and the youth poet laureate gets $400 annually with $100 for projects. Biello and DeFehr will read poems in front of council Monday (Feb. 6).