For youth poet laureate, persistence pays off

Victoria’s new youth poet laureate got into poetry as a 16-year-old. It sounds like she didn’t have much choice.

Back then, Ann-Bernice Thomas was a high-school student in Aurora, Ont. She joined a poetry slam team, in which poets recite original works at judged events.

“My English teacher made me, actually. I was going to class. She said: ‘You’re on the slam team!’ I really didn’t have a choice.”

Added Thomas: “I liked it. But I was very nervous.”

That was only a few years ago. Thomas, who is just 19, was introduced last month as youth poet laureate at a city council meeting.

Victoria’s youth poet laureate program is relatively new. The first one was appointed in 2013.

Mentored by the current adult poet laureate, Yvonne Blomer, Thomas will write and recite new poems at Victoria council meetings and youth council.
She’ll also do poetry readings at city and Greater Victoria Public Library events.

The honorary one-year position ends Dec. 31. Thomas receives a $1,750 honorarium and another $1,000 for project funding.

Her first official function as youth poet laureate is an appearance Thursday at 7 p.m. at a Victoria city council meeting. She will read her poem Home.

“It’s about immigration, Canada and all of that jazz,” she said.

Thomas, who skipped Grade 2, is in her second year of creative writing and theatre studies at the University of Victoria. Her father is a computer consultant; her mother is a homemaker. The family moved to Canada from their home just outside London, England, when she was seven years old.

In her capacity as youth poet laureate, Thomas has a few plans of her own. First, she’d like to host a weekly poetry radio show at UVic’s radio station, CFUV.

Thomas also aims to start a blog offering poetry news, poetry posted by others and a forum. She’d also like to organize a poetry workshop at a local recreation centre.

Thomas, who is interested in social change, has recited her poetry at the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life in 2015 and a 2014 Victoria rally in honour of Michael Brown, the teenager shot to death by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

“I’m getting more into social and political issues. And a lot of emotion, poetry and love and stuff,” Thomas said.

In her time here, she’s been active in Victoria’s poetry slam community. Supportive fellow poets offered advice on developing her craft and honing her performance skills. However, the duties of her new post and responsibilities of being a full-time student compelled her to cut back on those activities.

This is the second time Thomas has made a bid to be Victoria’s youth poet laureate. The first time she was rushed, so “I didn’t do a great application.”

When she learned in December she’d succeeded on her second attempt, Thomas was ecstatic.

“It was very exciting,” said the young poet, who was notified by email.

“I didn’t think I’d done very well in the interview.

I was very surprised. But happy.”

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