Photo of Anne Michaels. Courtesy of Marzena Pogorzaly.

Toronto’s new poet laureate is U of T alumna Anne Michaels. She is the fifth person to hold the position.

Michaels, who will officially take office on December 1, said that she was thrilled and honoured to have this opportunity, hailing it as a “tremendous opportunity to do something of value.”

During her three-year term, Michaels wants to create a citywide project to celebrate the diversity of languages in the city. She also mentioned a series aimed at elementary and high school students that would celebrate the rich literary history of poets and writers in Toronto. “There are many important sites in city that are literary,” Michaels noted.

The project is in the early stages of development and would involve contributions from across Toronto. “All voices are equal, everyone is speaking up,” said Michaels on the collective participation aspect of the project.

As an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s English department, Michaels enjoys speaking to students. She said that her students have a real drive and a commitment to working hard.

“The great thing about this position is that it is about literature, about power, about speaking out, and about great faith and hope. Millennials and every generation will be [or] are eager to have a voice in how things are and how things work,” said Michaels.

“Writing is a way of understanding, a way to try and get to the heart of the question. It teaches you how to love… It allows you to go into unparalleled territory,” Michaels said.

When asked if technology will change the way people write, Michaels, who writes using a pen and paper, stated that there is truth to writing in your own hand. “You force yourself to get at something. With a screen it is easy to type things in, to erase it. In your own hand, [there is] something more at stake somehow.” 

“The real work is in the hand and in the heart. Technology is just a tool,” she said, adding, “the true art of writing, what it takes to write a book, technology can never change that. That journey is a deeply interior journey, a real journey of thought. Technology can aid once you’ve written [and] technology is fantastic for revising and editing. It makes that process so easy, but the actual creating — technology can’t change what that is.”

Michaels has been working on a novel for a number of years now, and in addition to a children’s book coming out next month, she has another book of poetry coming out next year.

For Michaels, the writing process occurs daily — she takes time to write each day.  “It is important to commit yourself to every day…  Think about what you want to say before you say it. Really work through your ideas, why you’re writing, what you’re writing, [and] what’s at stake.”

“Build in thinking time into your work. Nobody can really just sit down and bang it out on the computer or on the page without thinking, revising, failing, how many times do we ever get it right the first time,” Michaels said. “Usually we have to say it several times before we get it right. It should be empowering, not a drag, [and it should] really shape what you’re thinking to reach the heart and head of the reader.”

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