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Edmonton’s Newest Poet Laureate

May 28, 2009

cadence-weaponYesterday, Edmonton became a world leader, by appointing hip hop artist Roland Pemberton, better known as Cadence Weapon, as their third Poet Laureate. Walt Whitman wrote,  the “proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Today we have seen that rarest of cases. Edmonton deserves a head-bob for forward thinking.

I am not from E-Ville, nor have I been hip for over a decade, so in order to catch up, I am streaming bits of beats from Cadence through my local café’s dodgy wireless as I write. Powerful and humorous lyrics with ample E-Town references are set to crunchy Eurotech beats. It’s hard to properly describe, but worth a listen, so jump to his MySpace page.

It is exciting that the arts “establishment” has recognized a very different kind of poet to be its literary ambassador. Because the form combines underground identity, beat-driven accessibility, and contemporary messages, it is an unknown quantity amongst its newfound peers. Edmonton has recognized the relevance of a medium through which the masses receive their everyday rhyme.

A true son of the city, Pemberton upholds his family’s tradition of contributing to Edmonton’s culture. His granddad, Rollie Miles was a star Eskimo running back, and his father T.E.D.D.Y. was a seminal ’80’s hip-hop DJ at CJSR.

It is our loss that Canadian poetry, the kind we typically think of as laureate material, has a reputation for being stodgy or inaccessible; the laureate label has an inadvertent curatorial effect, as if to say it is officially… “Ye be Olde.” I’ve read the works of Pemberton’s predecessors and found them to be engaging, and intelligent. However great they are though, they are not the most accepted and far-reaching poetry of right now, that is, they are not Hip Hop. The verse pounding into the masses through 4/4 meter is so ubiquitous that it is rarely regarded as poetry, but it’s just not your dad’s poetry.

By selecting this talented artist to represent the city, Edmonton has brought diversity to its Canon, recognizing that art is most vital as when it lives in the common vernacular. Epics, elegies and contemporary written works are indispensable; they contain linguistically innovation and cultural history. But we should remember, that the old Bard was once a clever Young Turk with a  subversive streak, yet was  in eloquent parlance with his society, in all its stratification.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. nmboudin permalink*
    May 31, 2009 12:37 pm

    There is a long tradition that predates the hip-hop as we know it, which can be traced back to the African continent. Young guys would boast about their martial prowess, using rhythmic chants to tell “war” poems with drama, pathos, bathos and humour. These poems were coupled with martial poses that were later rediscovered as break dancing.

    If you are interested in how this tradition was reinvented in the modern era, it is worth checking out ‘60s artists like Last Poets, Nikki Giovanni and Gil Scott Heron, artists whose “raps” bridged the gap and laid the foundation for old school and golden era hip hop.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    May 29, 2009 3:37 pm

    As an “emerging poet” i salute this wonderful/wondrous post. Thank you.

    I have long been interested in rhyme and the way hip hop (of which i know almost nothing) incorporates rhyme and matches rhyme to rhythm/beats to trigger memory and movement.

    Funny, the way rhyming poetry is derided by the Ones in The Know – with justification, in some measure (pun!) but still…
    much easier to remember and “incorporate into one’s body” poetry that rhymes.

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