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Posted: Monday June 27, 2011
Daylight Shines on The Whitehorse Poetry Festival

Dina Del Bucchia interviews Jamella Hagen (above, photo by Tamea Burd) about the 2011 Whitehorse Poetry Festival (includes photos from the festival, courtesy of Linda Crosfield).

This week heralded the official beginning of summer. Solstice is behind us and we’ve got three months worth of delicious leisure activities: long days at the beach, camping trips, picnics and tastiest of all, time to read that stack of books piled up on the nightstand. In Yukon they’ve got even more to look forward to. This weekend Whitehorse welcomes twenty four-hour daylight with a literary treat, The Whitehorse Poetry Festival, which kicks off today and continues through until Sunday June 26th.

(bill bissett, with rattle)

Every two years The Whitehorse Poetry Society brings the festival together and rounds up a diverse group of readers. Only in its third year, the festival has already hosted an astonishing amount of groundbreaking and award-winning poets, Don McKay, Michael Ondaatje and Jan Zwicky to name a brief few, and it’s gaining momentum.

(Rhea Tregebov and Karen Solie)

Tonight opens with the sure to be electric Poetry Bash and the Yukon Arts Centre and events continue from morning until evening Saturday and Sunday at the renovated Old Fire Hall.

(Elizabeth Bachinsky)

The line-up looks stellar. Take a gander at their roster of exceptional poets: Elizabeth Bachinsky, bill bissett, John Pass, Miranda Pearson, Clea Roberts, David Seymour, Karen Solie and Rhea Tregebov. And to top it off they’ve got guest host Eleanor Wachtel.

I interviewed Jamella Hagen, poet and coordinator of the Whitehorse Poetry Festival, to find out how they do up a poetry festival, northern-style.

How did you get involved with the Whitehorse Poetry Festival?

When I moved to the Yukon two years ago, I ran some search words through Google and found out that there was an amazing poetry festival happening that summer. Guests included Michael Ondaatje, Don McKay, Erin Moure, and C.D. Wright. I couldn’t believe it! If someone asked me to put together a top 10 list of poets in North America, all of these people would be on it. So I emailed the organizers and got involved. How could I not? In 2010, Clea Roberts, who coordinated the first two Whitehorse Poetry Festivals in 2007 and 2009, published her first book and this year she had a new baby. So I stepped in to do some coordinating.

(Clea Roberts)

What makes the Whitehorse Poetry Festival special and awesome?

Well, there’s 24 hours of daylight and mountains and big skies, but most of all it’s bringing some incredible poets to a unique part of the country and watching what happens. At many festivals, fiction gets the most attention, but this is one event that puts poets front and centre.

Are there a lot of poetry fans in Whitehorse? Tell us a little about the literary scene there.

Yes, Yukoners love poetry and literature and art in general. There’s a real creative spirit here. We just ran a poetry contest through CBC radio and had a huge number of entries, most of them local. There are also a number of published authors in town, and that number is rising every year. Erling Friis-Baastad has been publishing books of poetry in Whitehorse for years, Michael Reynolds published his first book, Slant Room, in 2009, Clea Roberts published her first book, Here is Where We Disembark in 2009 and I have a first book, coming out in September 2011, so it feels like there is a lot of energy in the poetry community right now.

(Erling Friis-Baastad)

What excites you in particular about the festival this year?

We have such a unique group of poets this year, I’m really excited to see what happens when they are all reading in one room together. Also, we’re really honoured to be able to dedicate this year’s festival to Alaska poet John Haines, who had a tremendous influence on the literary community, not just in the north, but also across the US and Canada and internationally. Erling Friis-Baastad will present a tribute in his honour, which will mean a lot to many people here.

Any big plans for the future of the festival?

We’re hoping to add some international readers next time. We would also like to connect more with local schools and with Yukon College students. The festival just keeps evolving. We’ll be in touch in 2013.

(Miranda Pearson)

Summer’s here! Not everyone wants to read the latest lad and chick lit, so what would you choose as your poetry beach read?

(Jamella Hagen)

Poetry beach read…hmm Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson? Oooh, I think Deepstep Come Shining by C.D. Wright. That would be a pretty interesting beach read. Or just in case you’ve never read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, maybe that. These are pretty random, I know. That’s what happens when you have 24 hours of daylight, you go insane. Eventually, it starts to get dark again and you return to yourself.

Jamella Hagen’s debut poetry collection, Kerosene, comes out September 2011 from Nightwood Editions.

This interview first appeared online at Canada Arts Connect on June 24, 2011.