Lawrence Cooper embraces poetry as form of ‘collective healing’

Powerful performances had poetry aficionados whooping and applauding wildly Monday night in the final round of the competition to become the 2019-21 Comox Valley Poet Laureate.

But in the end, the judging panel chose Lawrence Cooper -- a quieter published poet who spoke of love, healing and Elvis -- over fellow finalists Taryn Goodwin, Michael Datura, and Pamela DeWolf for the two-year term.

Each of them was well-qualified to fill the Poet Laureate role, the judges emphasized.

Cooper was “a bit of dark horse,” admitted Natalie Nickerson, the outgoing Poet Laureate and one of the judges. “He continued to surprise us with his willingness to experiment, his capacity for diversity, his understanding about the demands of the position and his overall skill and love for poetry.”

Fellow panel member Jordan Scott, a former poet-in-residence at SFU, said the interview process was crucial in the difficult decision-making.  That’s where it became apparent “just how much Lawrence embodies poetry as a way of living. We felt that Lawrence's vast experience as an educator, and the way he embraces poetry as form of personal and collective healing, will serve the Comox Valley well.

“We also thought that Lawrence was willing to take risks in his performance by pushing his craft into areas he's never explored,” he added.

The full-house crowd at Michael's Off Main restaurant was vocal and generous with applause.

Cooper has big and wide-ranging plans for the position, including carrying the voice of the poets to people suffering mental disorders.

“I plan to add my voice, that I understand and care, to the homeless, and the hopeless,” he said. “I hope to carry out a series of workshops on using poetry to transform our lives from helplessness and self-hate to self-empowerment and self-love.”

Cooper has been involved in education for almost 50 years, the last 15 teaching students homebound due to physical or mental illness.  He said he wants to “reach the young people in our high schools and colleges and encourage them to write and share poetry as a way of communicating from the heart.”

The LGBTQ community also figures prominently in his plans.

“I’ve had to struggle all my life with my bisexuality and gender identity,” he said. “I want to add my voice, not for political rights, but just to the right to be proud of ourselves and recognize and accept that we have a right to be happy and make our own special contributions to our community.”

Cooper said he also intends to “add the voice of the poets ... to the painful struggle of reconciliation with our First Nations brothers and sisters.”

After living and working two years on reserves in Northern Manitoba, and “watched my oldest son, a full blooded Cree, struggle with discrimination and prejudice, including being held up and beaten because he dared to talk back to a white RCMP officer,” there needs to “healing in our land,” he said.

“I would like to start my reaching out to my fellow poets in the First Nations communities so that we work together to advance that healing process.”

Cooper is also urging Valley poets and poetry lovers to contact him at [email protected]

“We need to speak out with one voice,” he said.  “We can make a difference.”

More information is available at Cooper’s personal website, www.lawrencejwcooper.ca.

Organized and produced by Comox Valley Arts, the Poet Laureate search was sponsored by the Comox District Teachers Association, Vancouver Island Regional Library, North Island College, 97.3 The Eagle, The Island Word, Sure Copy and the City of Courtenay.