1 February 2019

An event co-hosted by the McGill Department of English and ROAAr (McGill Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections) to kick off Black History Month was held on January 31st at McGill’s McLennan Library as 2005 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow George Elliott Clarke gave readings from his selected works.

 

Words from the Panel

“His work is both personal and political.”

“Your work forces us to think critically of the white-anglo tradition.”

“When we talk about Black History Month, we often focus on the United States…we can use our own examples within our own borders.”

“Your poetry collapses time.”

“Your writing is radical.”

Panelists: Natasha Chenier, Ashley Thorup, Atta Almasi and Prof. Eli MacLaren from the McGill University Department of English

Traveling Peoples

George Elliott Clarke spoke about the history of mobility and the question of ‘place’ as well as the phrase “we are traveling peoples.”

“After slavery declined, police officers took over the role of surveillance of black people.”

This is why Clarke lends importance to writing while traveling. “My real turning point in thinking about African-Canadian [identity] was my African-Canadian experience in the United States surrounded by soulful and heroic African-Americans,” he reflected on his time living in Durham, North Carolina.

Reading Excerpts
 
Watercolor for Negro Expatriates in France
Written when he was 18: “Time is wol jazz in Bretagne, you, hidden in berets or eccentric scarves, somewhere over the rainbowhere you are tin-men requiring hearts, lion-men demanding courage, scarecrow-men needing minds all your own after DuBois made blackness respectable.”
 
 
‘Look Homeward, Exile’ from the book Whylah Falls
When Clarke was 25, he left North America for Europe: London and Paris, and then Amsterdam, where he found special inspiration: “I remember my Creator in the old ways: I sit in taverns and stare at my fists; I knead earth into bread, spell water into wine. Still, nothing warms my wintry exile — neither Prayers nor fine love, neither votes nor hard drink.”
 
From the book Whylah Falls
Inspired by his brief time as a social worker, listening to other people’s stories: “Roses got thorns. And words do lie. I've seen love die.”
 
 
King Bee Blues
Inspired by Blues music: “You don’t have to trust a single black word I say. You don’t have to trust a single black word I say. But don’t be surprised if I sting your flower today.”
 
 
‘The Killing’ from Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of "George and Rue"
“Behind him like a piece of storm, I unleashed a frozen glinting— a lethal gash of lightning. His soul leaked from him in a Red Sea, a Dead Sea, churning his clothes to lava.”

 

“Pierre Elliott Trudeau was recognized as being a friend to black people.”
-George Elliott Clarke