Nova Scotia poet Chad Norman, author of 17 books including Selected & New Poems, recently returned from a literary tour of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, during which he served as a missionary of Canadian poetry. Norman graciously spoke with Atlantic Books Today about the importance of honouring elder poets, something he says Canada fails to do.
Atlantic Books Today: It seems your focus across the pond was broader than your own work, promoting Canadian poetry in general. What inspired you to do so in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland? Why was this important to you?
Chad Norman: I have given readings and tours for years celebrating Canadian poets and poetry, and simply believed it was a good thing to accompany such an event with a reading of my own work. But if you know anything about the readings Dylan Thomas did in the early 50’s, you now know my influences. Wow! He read from Thomas Hardy, WH Auden, to open his most famous readings.
So it wasn’t difficult for me when I was a very young poet to know to honour your “elders” can be part of things when you get a chance to read from your own works. And to entertain the possibility when I start to put a reading/speaking tour together.
Ireland, Wales, and Scotland suddenly landed [as a] possibility, after I had the success I did in Denmark and Sweden in 2016. But knowing those countries from the UK had long histories honouring poetry, it became so easy to make the decision the tour would be all about them.
And it was important to me because at this point in my path surviving as poet here in Canada, I needed to be deliberate about how much I believe the reading aloud of poems is so important, and how I’d grown tired of the Canadian scene. It seemed to me, [the focus was exclusively on] the promotion of the book. Not for me. The reading of the poems aloud, just like Dylan did, that caused the entire tour.
ABT: You’ve been quoted as saying you were unable to find government funding for this trip even though you were promoting Canadian poetry. Should Canadians be concerned that governments aren’t supportive enough of our own poets?
CN: I believe Canadians may not care, or give a darn, about what their poets are up to. Which is a shame to me because it is their tax money fuelling the Canada Council [for the Arts], the major funding source here in Canada for poets. So when their government doesn’t get it, why, perhaps, should they. Our country, really, is such a baby when it comes to honouring poetry. Why?
Well I know more about that now that I have toured countries that actually support poets, countries that realize how much poetry has been part of their history, therefore realize its necessity today. So when the Canada Council and Arts Nova Scotia wouldn’t come through with any funds, what am I left to feel. I felt neither got it, they don’t hear what I am planning to do in order to celebrate Canada.
So, as you can imagine, I am not impressed. I have 18 poetry titles. I have published across Canada in pretty much every “necessary” literary journal or magazine, and around the world in a number of other countries. But one source tells me, “You didn’t tell us what poets you are going to celebrate” as well as, “Your support material isn’t impressive,” and I sent in poems that have appeared in recognized journals across Canada, all published over my 35 years. And it doesn’t end there; Canada Council tells me my grant application has been “recommended” but there “can’t be any funds awarded.” Get your head around that. Go ahead.
And all I asked for, after [having] been advised by one of their program directors, is a measly $1,500. And, know this, the Canada Council turned my travel grant down when I applied in 2016 too. Another tour to celebrate Canadian poetry. Imagine that, being as I may have said, 35 years into it.
[There were] numerous times of embarrassment when I was in the UK. How many couldn’t believe my provincial and federal governments would support me.
ABT: What was the response to Canadian poetry in a land with such a rich poetic history of its own?
CN: The response to Canadian poetry in all three countries was filled with wide eyes, smiles, times of contemplation, and best of all, loud clapping after the poems I read. But the conversations I had and heard after the readings were the most valuable because they were made up of, time and time again, appreciation. Appreciation of the selection I chose, being thankful for the poets I promoted, and how I was able to read them in ways that audiences told me they appreciated so much. Being out on the road there isn’t anything more you wish to hear. But I knew the poets and poems I chose would cause all they did. Our poets deserve it.
ABT: Did you get to meet any local poets while you were there? How does their view of poetry compare to that of Canada’s or Atlantic Canada’s?
CN: I met a number of poets in each country because that’s how I set up the tours. Each city or stop I asked to have certain poets join me. Why wouldn’t I? And the poets in each country were so quick to help me either find poets, or agree to share the events in their cities. Their views of poetry are nothing like Canada’s or Atlantic Canada’s poets, which doesn’t surprise me, living in a land that places poetry right alongside theatre, music, painting/art; they get it. They are part of such a long history of poetry being important or meaningful, or part of everyday living. So I sat back and listened, and came home with all kinds of advice and hope for changes in our country, especially when it comes to how the government distributes funding.
ABT: Did this experience change your perception of Canada at all, particularly with regards to our poetry?
CN: This tour totally changes how I see Canada. We are behind. We are tailing. Poetry is some “little” hobbyish kind-of art form. And that is how it is treated, other than what the control and domination of Academia has over it, where Poetry “seems” to matter, and let’s pump out those who aren’t prepared to live lives as poets.
There are many in our country, many who have ridden on funding they don’t deserve. For instance, did you know, one can be a long-term member of the League of Canadian Poets, a long-standing funding source for poets, and still make the same amount of money for readings and travel as a member who has just came onto a full-member eligibility. Think about that for a minute. I am nearly 40 years in, and some beginner makes the same amount of funding as I do. And, think about how I feel, because I know what other countries are doing for their poets. So, mine has got to get its poop together…real fast.
ABT: Which of your own works did you read and how did you select them?
CN: I read from my recent title, Selected & New Poems. And I selected what I did as I always do. Based on a quote from Dylan Thomas, “I read the poems I like.”