Great Black North launches

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer / Staff writer
February 15, 2013 01:00 AM

Coast poets celebrate Black History Month pictured left to right; Valerie Mason-John, Yvette Bouti Makosso, Adelene Da Soul Poet and (seated) Jean Pierre Makosso.

A recently published collection of poetry from black Canadians, the first of its kind in Canada, had its start on the Sunshine Coast.

Editor Valerie Mason-John (aka Queenie) of Gibsons along with Edmonton-born Kevan Anthony Cameron (aka Scruffmouth) put together the anthology of 90 poets titled The Great Black North, Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. They invited poets across Canada, whether dub, slam or performance, to contribute, and the book includes some well known names such as Toronto's Lillian Allen and the Governor General's award-nominated Afua Cooper from Nova Scotia. Professor and poet George Elliott Clarke wrote the introduction.

The book will be launched in Gibsons on Wednesday, Feb. 20. at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery in a performance and celebration of Black History Month.

Several local poets who contributed will be on hand to read and perform: Jean Pierre Makosso's contribution is Love You Yet Again, a tribute to his mother who gave him the gift of story-telling. His wife Yvette Bouti Makosso will also perform. Adelene da soul poet (who many know as Bertha Clark) will speak words close to her heart in her anthology piece, Da Brotherman. Queenie's tragic story of prejudice is told in Yellowknifed.

"You don't really hear about black people in Canada," Mason-John said. "We wanted to present a snapshot of the black context in this country."

When she moved to Edmonton from England years ago, Mason-John found a strong, vibrant culture that included poetry. Canadians love poetry, she noticed, and she and her co-editor chose that medium for the book.

"The black voice is different from the white," she said. "We're not considered as poets because it's not a page culture."

The concept of page culture is explained in one of the more interesting aspects of the anthology. It has been divided into sections: the page poetry comes first - poems in print that the reader can enjoy while reading quietly.

The next section is dub poetry, a sub-genre that Mason-John describes brilliantly in the book after interviewing dub poets Klyde Broox and Lillian Allen.

In the spoken word category, the book includes spectacular performance poets such as Makosso and Adelene whose work jumps off the page and into the audience's laps. Next category is slam poetry with its competitive aspect that has become a "flourishing forum for expression," notes Mason-John.

Also included in the anthology is the work of Lorna Goodison, teacher at the University of Michigan and part-time resident of Halfmoon Bay. When Mason-John heard that the poet lived on the Sunshine Coast, she made a point of tracking her down for her literary contribution.

The Great Black North, published by Frontenac House Poetry, was launched in Vancouver on Feb. 1 at the start of Black History Month. Afterwards, the poets scattered to promote the book in other parts of the country: Mason-John to Nova Scotia, Makosso to Ottawa and Adelene da soul poet to Victoria to appear at the Belfry Theatre. This trip to the province's capital to recite her poetry is a special moment for her since she is a descendant of the first black immigrants invited to come to B.C. by the governor.

When the Coast poets gather again at the GPAG on Feb. 20, they will celebrate the month's significance. The reception starts at 6:30 p.m. with refreshments, remarks from Gibsons Mayor Wayne Rowe at 7:15 and performances and readings from the book shortly after.

Throughout Black History Month the local poets and story-tellers will be available to perform in schools and colleges on the Coast. To book performers, contact:

Getting black history into the schools has been a goal for Mason-John and she's just received some good news. The Great Black North has been passed to be taught in the province of Nova Scotia. It will be part of the African Canadian Studies and Canadian Literature studies curriculum for Grade12. For more information, see

More Black History events are planned for the Coast during the month of February. They include a film, The Last White Knight, at the Heritage Playhouse on Monday, Feb. 18, with a speaker Raj Gill of the BC Network for Compassionate Communication, along with Adelene da soul poet. See Art Beat for more events and information.

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