It could be argued that city governments everywhere need a little poetry. The Mayor of the City of Regina, Pat Fiacco, recognized that when he encouraged city councils across the country to invite a poet to read during council meetings.
As a poet who has worked hard to engage the public in poetry, York English Professor Priscila Uppal (BA Hons. ’97, PhD ’04) was a natural choice. She’ll be reading one of her poems at the Tuesday, April 10 Toronto city council meeting at 9:30am as part of the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge. It also coincides with National Poetry Month.
“The fact that it is on the Toronto city council agenda makes poetry an item of civic interest and civic debate,” says Uppal. “I think it’s intended to send a message that arts and poetry are an important part of our community life.”
Left: Priscila Uppal
So what poem did Uppal chose for this austere five minutes in front of Toronto’s city councillors and Mayor Rob Ford? “I opted for a poem I wrote for my father. It celebrates my father as an immigrant who worked for the Canadian government and suffered an accident which necessitated that he overcome major health issues.” A quadriplegic, Uppal’s father raised two children as a single parent.
Uppal has long kept a list of words her father likes to use, “words that a lot of immigrants like to use which longtime Canadian citizens don’t,” she says. So words like gallivanting and ragamuffin and hootenanny.
The poem, “My Father’s South-Asian Canadian Dictionary”, is from her 2010 collection, Traumatology. “What it means to be a citizen is very much a part of this poem,” says Uppal. She also thinks it should be part of council debate.
Uppal’s books include Winter Sport: Poems, Ontological Necessities, which was shortlisted for the $50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, Confessions of a Fertility Expert, Pretending to Die, To Whom It May Concern and The Divine Economy of Salvation.
She is the editor of The Exile Book of Canadian Sports Stories and The Exile Book of Poetry in Translation: 20 Canadian Poets Take on the World and the author of We Are What We Mourn: The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy.
The Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge project is led by the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild in partnership with the League of Canadian Poets.