To kick off National Poetry Month, I took a trip over to Gabriola Island to visit Naomi Beth Wakan, Nanaimo’s first poet laureate. Naomi’s husband Eli picked me up at the ferry and as we chatted in the front seat of his van, we looked out the window to see two eagles at the top of a very tall fir tree.  Sheep and lambs were grazing in a field and on one of the oldest farmsteads on the island, the weathered grey exterior of the house was surrounded by the brightness of yellow forsythia.

Eli told me he had been pruning trees on their property at Drumbeg House. Doing it himself means he determines their shape. That’s like writing a poem, I said.

At 82 years of age, Naomi Wakan (a fellow Cancerian), wants to continue to grow. And she wants her audience to grow as well.

She thought she was going to stop writing but a Nanaimo writing group proposed she let her name stand for Nanaimo’s inaugural poet laureate. She was intrigued!

Naomi’s three-year term began in November 2013 and her first event was to speak to a Grade 12 class at NDSS (Nanaimo District Secondary School) on the subject of publication and rejection. She made charts for them so the students could see the pros and cons of conventional publishing and self-publishing. (She has done plenty of both forms of publishing with over fifty books to her credit.)

As Nanaimo’s literary arts ambassador, Naomi intends to encourage people who are already writing, giving them a “kick in the pants.” She also wants to make people aware of the existence of an amazing array of poets in Nanaimo. (Kim Goldberg, Mildred Tremblay, Winona Baker, Leanne McIntosh and Kim Clark are among them.)

Naomi plans to publish the poems she’s been creating for civic events. There have been about ten poem so far. She can write a poem about anything she says. She believes your truth comes through in whatever you write. The chapbook will be called Naomi’s Nanaimo.

She has initiated a monthly column in the Nanaimo Daily News that will feature a contributed poem about Nanaimo. If she can find a sponsor, those poems will end up in an anthology.

We sat in Naomi’s upstairs study, chatting. She told me she finds her new role stimulating. Besides all the readings and workshops she’ll be doing in her official capacity, she has her new book to launch. Some Sort of Life (Pacific-Rim Publishersis a collection of essays and poetry and will be launched on Saturday, April 12th at the Gabriola Island branch of Vancouver Island Regional Library, 575 North Road. (That’s the same day as my book launch in Nanaimo so if there are no Gabriolans at my celebration, I’ll understand!)

Just before noon, we went downstairs for lunch. Somehow Naomi had managed to roast chicken and potatoes, steam asparagus and make a salad. All the while we continued to chat.

Naomi feels herself very intelligent from 6 to 11 a.m. when she writes. In the afternoon she daydreams and reads. Somewhere in there is gardening (she did two hours of it the day before I saw her) and admin email to schedule all her readings, appearances and workshops.

Naomi works with people she calls her “team” at the City of Nanaimo who book her civic events. She figures she was chosen poet laureate as she knows nothing about city politics.

Naomi’s man behind the scene is Eli who drives her to her readings.  He has also helped create a nourishing and artistic environment at home with his wood sculpture. The fence around their front garden is also work of art. Naomi is standing in front of one of the gates on the cover of her new book. Inside their vinyl-sided cottage, as she refers to it, are many pieces of fabric art created by Naomi and bouquets of pear blossoms brought in from the garden.

You can see Naomi Wakan’s list of activities and events on her website here.

And you can order her new book directly from Naomi at