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Former Nanaimo poet laureate revisits past poems in latest collection

Gabriola Island’s Naomi Beth Wakan presents career-spanning ‘Wind on the Heath’
Gabriola Island poet Naomi Beth Wakan’s latest book is ‘Wind on the Heath.’ (Photo courtesy Elias Wakan)

While assembling her latest book of poetry, Naomi Beth Wakan has been rediscovering forgotten poems dating back half a century.

The Gabriola Island resident has released her latest collection of poems, the career-spanning Wind on the Heath. Wakan estimates a third of the book is dedicated to her Japanese tanka and haiku poems, a focus of hers for the last 20 years. The book also covers Wakan’s tenure as Nanaimo’s inaugural poet laureate and features older works that are only now seeing the light of day.

“Those early poems from my first marriage, they’re not published,” Wakan said. “This is the first time they’ve been published. They surprised me as I’d forgotten I’d written any at that time and it was as if I was reading a stranger’s work but somehow they were vaguely familiar.”

The book also marks Wakan’s 90th year, and she’s thankful to those who have been helpful and supportive throughout her decades writing poetry, including David Fraser of Nanaimo’s Wordstorm Society of the Arts, Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria and Hilary Peach, organizer of the Poetry Gabriola Festival.

“These people are so important to poets because we have so few outlets and they give us so much encouragement,” Wakan said.

She’s also grateful for the Vancouver Island Regional Library – “without whom I would have been totally lost” – and Nanaimo’s culture and heritage coordinator Chris Barfoot, who helped her during her time as poet laureate.

When selecting poems for Wind on the Heath, Wakan said she chose popular poems that she felt people would expect her to include in the collection, as well as pieces that she thought “still held up.” While a few are more than a page long, she said “if you can describe the universe in a three-line haiku, you can say everything you need to say in a one-page poem.” In her work, Wakan said she aims to dignify the ordinary.

“I write domestic stuff. I don’t write a lot of political protest. I try to make the everyday hallowed. I’m not religious but I try to show the importance of the everyday thing,” she said.

The poems are presented in chronological order, and although some were written decades apart Wakan said there is a consistency between the old and the new.

“Oddly enough, I haven’t seemed to mature that much,” Wakan said. “I’m still that eight-year-old child asking those impossible-to-be-answered questions like ‘why is there something instead of nothing?’ and ‘why is there good and bad?’”

Wind on the Heath is available at Vancouver Island Regional Library, the bookstore at Page’s Resort and Marina, 3350 Coast Rd., Gabriola Island, and online.

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