Profile by Jane Ledwell
I believe anyone can write a poem,” says PEI’s new poet laureate, Dianne Hicks Morrow, emphatically. “I also believe a poem can be about anything… And that for me is the whole point.” She is getting over the initial shock of her appointment to the laureate’s role and is filled with enthusiastic hopes and plans for her three-year term promoting the literary arts, and poetry in particular, in Island communities.
“PEI is already known as a place rich in poets,” she says. “I want to go further.” For a number of years, she has led classes in “Writing from Life” for the Seniors’ College at UPEI. The response from those groups to poetry has too often been, “Of course, you know, I’m no good at poetry.” Dianne says, “I want to dispel the fear of poetry, the being intimidated by poetry, and have fun.”
After all, she insists. “Poetry is everywhere. It’s in slogans and signs, big-city subways and buses. And songs!” (She adds as an aside, “I’d give anything to be a singer-songwriter, if only I could sing.”) Dianne says, “I want to reach people who never thought they could enjoy poetry. For people who never take a book of poetry out of the library: I want to change that.”
Dianne laughs that “It was a coincidence that when the announcement was made [about the Poet Laureate] I already had a February 2nd Groundhog Day reading planned at the Montague Rotary Library… This is the kind of reading I would like to do in the next three years. I want to partner with the library system across the Island,” she says. “And that ‘across the Island’ is important to me—I want it not to be Charlottetown-centred.”
Dianne’s own poetry has tried to demonstrate there are depths to seeming simplicity and to themes of home and family. “One of my sons said, ‘Mom, your poems are too simple,’” she recalls, “and I replied, ‘Yeah. Good.’” Her first book, Long Reach Home, came out in 2002; her second, What Really Happened Is This: A Poetry Memoir, with its honest look at the “universal theme” of parents aging and dying, was published in 2012 and won the PEI Book Award for poetry.
Ironically, Dianne was in a “prose phase” when offered the Poet Laureateship—working on a collection of stories about home renovations, mining the experience of “37 years in a 140-year-old farmhouse” and an appetite she discovered among audiences for stories of leaky houses, painting fiascos, and wallpapering disasters.
In recent poetry, Dianne has a travel-inspired suite of poems set in Mexico (where she was heading when we met for this interview) and another suite of similar length from Australia, inspired by a writer-in-residence stint in Tasmania. She worries “that won’t do for a poet laureate.” Here on PEI, it’s dramatic monologues that are piquing her poetic curiosity. “My goal is to write dramatic monologues,” she says, “but I’m still hung up on how to do this. I want to create a mythical voice…” The voices in the community that are giving her inspiration include voices of protest and prophecy she hears speaking out about social and environmental issues.
Reflecting on changes in the writing and publishing scene since the advent of The Buzz twenty years ago, she reflects instead on The Buzz, “What I love about The Buzz is that it is so inclusive and makes the arts available and inviting to people,” she says, “which is what I want to accomplish as poet laureate.”