Well versed Winnipeg’s poet laureate Duncan Mercredi ends his term with celebration of words
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For Winnipeg’s outgoing poet laureate Duncan Mercredi, vulnerability is key when it comes to writing poetry.
Mercredi says poems resonate with us in such a personal way because they come from the heart.
Mnidoon Giizis Oonhg/Yiyikopiwi-pisim
Hosted by Kim Wheeler, with Duncan Mercredi, Rosanna Deerchild, Trevor Greyeyes, Chimwemwe Undi and more
● West End Cultural Centre
● Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
“When you are writing poems you are trying to share what you’re feeling with people, as opposed to when you are writing fiction or novels, when the thoughts come from the brain,” he says.
As Winnipeg’s winter sets in, and to celebrate the culmination of his three-year stint, Mercredi has assembled a group of poets, singers and storytellers for a free evening of entertainment at the West End Cultural Centre tonight.
He has given the event two names, Mnidoon Giizis Oonhg (Little Spirit Moon) and Yiyikopiwi-pisim (Frost Moon).
“The first is Anishinaabe and the second is Cree,” he says. “Back in the day — although my kokum shared stories anytime she felt the need to share — it was the beginning of storytelling in the winter.”
Mercredi is the city’s second-ever poet laureate, taking over from Di Brandt. The role, which is meant to last for two years, was extended to three owing to the pandemic.
“A month after we made the announcement the lockdown happened and he wasn’t able to do a lot of stuff in person,” says the Winnipeg Art Council’s Dominic Lloyd. “That’s why the term was extended. He has been such a gem to have in the role and we really appreciate everything he has done.
“This event is a last hurrah for his term — a celebration of words, the community and his time as poet laureate. We are very thrilled he has pulled it all together. We look forward to all the presenters, and to being able to let Winnipeggers know who the next poet laureate is.”
Writer, broadcaster and filmmaker Kim Wheeler will host the evening, which sees artists including Ronel Amata, Rosanna Deerchild, Elizabeth Denny, Ariel Gordon, Trevor Greyeyes, Hetxw’ms Gyetxw, Yelani Peris, Chimwemwe Undi, Jennifer Waytiuk, Jordan Wheeler and David Williamson perform their works.
“I think Winnipeg was lucky to have Duncan Mercredi as poet laureate,” Kim Wheeler says. “He is a fascinating man with incredible insight. In a city where one-eighth of the population is Indigenous, it’s important to see our people in highly visible roles like this, who are in a position to educate and inform non-Indigenous people in a non-threatening and entertaining way. It’s what can change hearts and minds.”
Born in Misipawistik (Grand Rapids), Mercredi, a longtime resident of Winnipeg — he first visited when he was 11 and thought to himself, “I am going to live here” — left home at 16 and began living in the city when he was 22.
He hopes his time in the role has made people think about Winnipeg and the people who live here. The different “factions” within the city intrigue him, each culture with its own “village” within the city.
For Mercredi, accolades don’t mean much; he says they are “a road to losing your humility.” When he was first asked to be poet laureate, it took him two weeks to decide if he was going to take the role.
“Once people start talking about you, your head gets kind of big. I already have a big head; I don’t really need it any bigger,” he says with a laugh.
“But it’s a positive thing. It’s raised more awareness of my writing, more people started checking out ‘Who is this little man?’”
During his tenure he has appeared at storytelling and literary festivals, addressed Winnipeg’s city council, conducted workshops for school children all over Manitoba, and published two books, including mahikan ka onot: The Poetry of Duncan Mercredi (WLU Press) and 215 (Winnipeg Arts Council).
Wednesday night will mark his final public event as Winnipeg poet laureate.
Métis writer Elizabeth Denny says she is honoured to be part of the evening.
“The significance if not lost on me. I wish his tenure would never end — although I’m sure he feels differently,” she says. “Duncan has a quiet and humble way of teaching and leading. When he speaks, you want to pay attention. I would describe his word, his works, as quiet thunder.”
For host Wheeler, the evening could be one full of surprise.
“When you get a group of Indigenous writers like the ones who will be reading at Wednesday’s event, you never know what will happen,” she says. “But I can guarantee there will be a lot of laughter, teasing and welcoming everyone into the circle.”
The West End Cultural Centre requires that patrons wear masks and show proof of vaccination for all events in the venue.
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AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.