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Nanaimo’s inaugural poet laureate Naomi Beth Wakan retiring from public work

Wakan will host a final haiku workshop at the Nanaimo Museum this weekend
Nanaimo’s inaugural poet laureate Naomi Beth Wakan said she is retiring from public work. (File photo)

Nanaimo’s inaugural poet laureate Naomi Beth Wakan is making what she says may be her final public appearance at a sold-out haiku writing workshop at the Nanaimo Museum on April 14.

The 86-year-old Gabriola Island resident said taking the ferry to Nanaimo to give presentations and offer classes is becoming too demanding, and while she will still be writing poems, essays and lyrics, she foresees her life becoming one of domesticity.

“Those last three years as poet laureate really allowed me three years to look back and see where I’d been and where I was going and I probably said everything I want to write…” she said.

“Why I’m satisfied, not smug, is that I have a very small writing talent. Very small – not nothing – but I have this talent and I did the best I could with it and I think that’s great. If you recognize your size and you stay in that size you can do quite nicely.”

Earlier in her writing career, Naomi Beth Wakan says she was overly concerned with getting the best tables at book shows and making the right connections. She said dabbling in Japanese poetry amended her perception and shifted her priorities.

“Ambition can really limit you because you’re driven all the while. You want to succeed, you want to know the right people, you want to do all the bloody things you have to do to get on in the writing world…” she said.

“I was driven. I was totally horrible. I mean, looking back I can see how vicious I was.”

Wakan said she found relief by writing Japanese haiku and tanka – carefully structured, concise three- and five-line poems.

“It has to be simple, the words have to be simple and you have to be very here and now, which nobody ever is because they’re thinking of the future like I was with sales all the while,” Wakan said.

“So the more I wrote haiku – and moving to Gabriola was a good move – the more I became centred and just satisfied.”

Wakan chronicled her experience exploring those poetic forms and the impact it had on her life in her memoir Poetry That Heals. The book was recently re-released with the edition containing modified comments and observations of Japanese poetry.

“A lot of places I made it very clear that it was my opinion and that other people in the field didn’t always feel this way,” Wakan said.

“The main thing I did is I took responsibility for a lot of the statements that I had just thrown out before … I think I was much more moderate in this account and also I gave thanks to a lot of people who’ve taught me those forms.”

Although she concedes that book covers “a very narrow form of poetry writing,” the overall message can be widely applied.

“The point of the book is that any creative endeavour you do with intensity for a number of years is going to change your psyche, so really the book is relevant to artists or dancers, musicians, anybody who really goes for it.”

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