Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.5

November 4, 2004


Versatile George Elliott Clarke brings music and art to his poetry

By Elizabeth Johnston

The audience who attended a reading by George Elliott Clarke on Oct. 29 were treated to an exuberant performance by this award-winning poet’s work.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1960, Clarke has three university degrees and many honours, including the Outstanding Writer in film and Television Award (2000). Before becoming an English professor at the University of Toronto, he was a parliamentary aide, legislative researcher, social worker and journalist.

He came to Concordia to give a lecture on the poet as public intellectual, and a reading of his own work.

Clarke read from his opera libretto, Beatrice Chancey, and his more recent jazz musical, Québécité, then had a recorded excerpt played for the audience. As the music and words filled the room, Clarke swayed with his eyes closed, clearly enjoying every moment of his work performed.

He admitted that it was a thrill to see his words brought to life on stage, giving them a life beyond the page, beyond his own imagination. He said he loves collaborating with all sorts of artists and musicians, as well as blurring the boundaries between one art form and another.

Maybe I'm naive, he said, but I believe poetry is the basis of everything. Why not a novel in poetry? Or a screenplay in poetry? he asked. His own hybrid creations include the poetry novel Whylah Falls (1990) and the poetry screenplay One Heart Broken into Song (1999). With a grin, he added that screenplays pay better, and why shouldn’t a poet get paid a lot of money?

This was the annual Lahey Lecture, sponsored by the English Department.

Poet Mark Strand will speak on Friday, Nov. 12, in the DeSève Cinema, at 7:30 p.m.

Strand was born in Prince Edward Island and raised in the United States and South America. He has published 10 books of poems, including Blizzard of One (Knopf, 1998), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Selected Poems (1980), as well as two books of prose, several volumes of translation, several monographs on contemporary artists, and three books for children.

He has served as Poet Laureate of the United States and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He currently teaches in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.