In October 2013 the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada appointed Gabriola Island resident Naomi Wakan as its first poet laureate. As such she was expected to create poetic works celebrating Nanaimo and promoting literary culture. Says Wakan, “I love writing poetry for particular occasions, moments that mark occasions such as the crowning of the May Queen, Canada Day, and the Vancouver Island Exhibition.”
Naomi Wakan has kept a whirlwind schedule this year, writing about Nanaimo and reading at local events. She facilitates workshops on the publishing industry, memoir writing, and haiku and tanka writing. She has presented to all ages, from high school students to seniors. Wakan finds people receptive: “I think everyone is satisfied with me because I write in a language that everyone can understand.”
Two pet projects are her regular column in What’s On Nanaimo and a monthly poetry contest in the Nanaimo Daily News. According to Wakan, “happiness isn’t about material goods, or even being loved: it is about having a creative challenge and being able to pull it off.”
Born in England, Wakan studied haiku and taught in Japan. At 83, she is a lively octogenarian. With her white hair, bright eyes, and sprightly energy, the word “aging” seems peripheral. Almost one year into a three-year term as Nanaimo’s poet laureate, she is busy planning next year’s activities. It’s an approach to life she shares with her identical twin, also a writer. They call it “pegging ahead”. “It ensures we will be still alive to fulfil the event’s demands,” says Wakan with her characteristic dry humour.
An essayist and writer of non-fiction as well as a poet, Naomi Wakan has produced over 50 books on a variety of topics, many self-published and self-marketed. Her haiku work, Haiku One Breath Poetry, was acclaimed as a Canadian Children’s Book Centre Choice and an American Library Association Selection. In production is Naomi in Nanaimo, a collection of her Nanaimo poet laureate poems. Many of her works can be purchased at the Nanaimo Museum.