Nanaimo’s inaugural youth poet laureate Kailey DeFehr presented Beyond this City’s Streets, a video anthology of youth poetry, at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on May 31. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo’s first youth poet laureate unveils video anthology

‘Beyond this City’s Streets’ features poems about growing up in Nanaimo

As Nanaimo’s inaugural youth poet laureate, Kailey DeFehr, 24, was given the chance to share her poetry with her community. And as her final act in that role, she led a project to give other young, local poets the same opportunity.

On May 31,DeFehr launched Beyond this City’s Streets, a video anthology featuring herself and five other local poets – Erika Berg, Dazza Fell, Trent Warren Jack, Vayda Page and Liam Salzl-O’Toole – reflecting through their art on what it was like to grow up in Nanaimo. Frustration, alienation and despair are recurring themes, but DeFehr ends the video on a positive note.

“It’s been sort of a weird time in Nanaimo over the last few years and I think that a lot of youth have been affected by that,” DeFehr said. “So I was expecting some darkness. I was almost sort of hoping for it. I wanted the truth.”

Beyond this City’s Streets will be available on the City of Nanaimo website by the end of the week.

DeFehr started her two-year term as youth poet laureate in January 2017, after being nominated by Nanaimo’s first poet laureate, Naomi Beth Wakan. The two met when Wakan gave a presentation at DeFehr’s Introduction to Poetry class at VIU. Wakan became a bit of a mentor for DeFehr, inviting her to poetry events and encouraging her to submit work for publication.

In her role, DeFehr said she attended “as many poetry events as I possibly could” to present her poems. She also led workshops on her own and with current Nanaimo poet laureate Tina Biello and launched the City of Nanaimo High School Poetry Contest.

City of Nanaimo culture and heritage co-ordinator Chris Barfoot said the youth poet laureate position was created based on the success on the adult position and to give young people “a powerful voice through the arts and culture.” As it was a newly created role, DeFehr said, “Honestly, for the most part we’ve sort of been playing it by ear.”

“I knew it was going to be a challenge for myself, but it was one that I knew would benefit me as a writer and as a person, in general, in the future,” DeFehr said. “And I always want to take advantage of opportunities to grow.”

In February, city council appointed high school student Valina Zanetti as DeFehr’s successor. Now that her time as youth poet laureate is over, DeFehr said she’ll be focusing her efforts on a romance novel she’s writing.

Overall, she said the last two years have been a “transformative” experience.

“It pushed me outside of my shell and kind of forced me to take myself seriously for once,” DeFehr said. “I have all these big dreams and everything, but confidence-wise I always struggled a little bit. So it was that push that I needed to get outside of my comfort zone and now that I’m here, I don’t really want to go back.”

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