UVic student named youth poet laureate

A University of Victoria creative writing student has been named the first youth poet laureate for the City of Victoria.

Aysia Law, 22, will serve as an ambassador for youth in Victoria, perform at city council and City of Victoria Youth Council meetings, as well as complete a project of her choice to engage other youth through poetry.

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“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for a youth in the community, like me or future ones, to have some power in the community in shaping the vision of their own city,” Law said.

“Poetry is an amazing way to connect people who wouldn’t otherwise meet up. And I think it’s also kind of a leveller, in terms of your city and different perspectives.”

“Aysia just came in so grounded, but really excited about the position as well,” said Jeremy Loveday, who spearheaded the creation of the position. Loveday is Victoria’s 2012 Poetry Slam champion and will mentor Law for her year-long term.

“She had great ideas and she laid them out so clearly as to how — from Day 1 to the end — it would work and how it’s going to make an impact for the youth of Victoria,” he said.

Law pitched a poetry flash mob for National Poetry Month in April, as well as the development of a diversity slam for the city, which would use poetry as a springboard for facilitating discourse around the community’s needs.

Nothing is set in stone, however, and she will work with Loveday to develop her plans over the year. The position will be administered through the City of Victoria Youth Council.

“It’s the first [position] of its kind in Canada,” Loveday said. “There’s no model to follow so we’re sort of building the model as we go along.”

While Law is believed to be Canada’s first youth poet laureate, Port Moody is also searching for one to celebrate that city’s centennial, with an application deadline March 25.

The position also already exists in several foreign cities, including Oakland, California, and New York City, as well as Birmingham and Worcestershire in the U.K.

Four judges selected Law from 32 applicants.

She said she applied for the position on a whim, at the suggestion of her poetry workshop instructor.

Now a second-year student at UVic, she won the fiction category of the UVic Diversity Writing Contest 2011. She also volunteers with South Island Pride Youth and runs Queer Quills, a writing group for queer, transgendered/transsexual and allied youth that meets Thursdays at Solstice Café.

She grew up on the Lower Mainland and attended her first poetry slam at age 19 in Vancouver.

“I didn’t realize it was a youth slam at first,” she said. “So in my head, I was like, ‘;Wow, I want to be like these people when I grow up.’ And then I realized some of them were younger than me. … So I’ve been kind of striving for that ever since.”

Law receives a $1,500 honorarium, plus $1,000 in project funding, thanks to a private donation from Il Terrazzo Ristorante. The City of Victoria Youth Council is still looking for an additional $750 to meet its first-year budget requirements for the project.

The City of Victoria will recognize Law as its first youth poet laureate at a council meeting this month, Loveday said.

Youth 21 and under were eligible to apply (Law had her 22nd birthday after the deadline). About 65 per cent of applicants were high school students, he said. One applicant, whose mother completed the application on his or her behalf, was as young as six.

The selection panel comprised Loveday, poet Megan Marshall, Victoria poet laureate Janet Rogers and Kluane Buser-Rivet, co-ordinator of the City of Victoria Youth Council.

Loveday and Law will begin planning projects this week, as well as ways to make the program and position sustainable for future years.

“Being the first, I have a little bit of freedom in helping define it,” Law said. “So I’m just aiming to set the bar high, but I’m not quite sure what that’s going to look like yet.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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