'This wave is an opportunity': Ontario's first poet laureate hopes to inspire, empower other Canadian artists

Ontario's first poet laureate says he hopes to inspire other artists across the province with the power of the spoken word.

Randell Adjei told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday that being the province's first poet laureate is an honour, but also comes with a sense of responsibility he does not take lightly.

“It means a lot to me, especially given the fact that this is the first as well, and gives me an opportunity to build a legacy for the poet laureates that are to come afterwards,” Adjei said in an interview from Scarborough, Ont.

Last week, legislators of all parties passed a private member's to appoint Adjei as Ontario’s first poet laureate, a role created to memorialize Gord Downie, The Tragically Hip frontman who died in 2017.

Adjei said he and Downie shared an understanding of the importance of words and the impact they can have on others.

"When I think about Gord and think about his legacy and what he's done, he spoke about injustice, he spoke about truth, and through his music and through his poetry, he was really able to tell the stories of many others," Adjei said.

"I think the connection is that I also realize the power of using the spoken word to really inspire, to empower and tell our stories."

In his new role, Adjei will serve as a legislative officer in a two-year term. When public health restrictions are lifted, he will travel across the province to increase the profile and exposure of Ontario's poets, participate in poetry readings, and organize and administer educational workshops.

"The role of the poet laureate is to really elevate the profile of artists and poets across the province, and the whole impetus behind it was really galvanizing the province together. For myself, what it really means is giving an opportunity for poets and other artists (to?) recognize that this wave is an opportunity for them to truly be able to live their passion," Adjei said.

The renowned spoken word artist, poet, motivational speaker, and coach released his first book of poetry "I Am Not My Struggles" in 2018.

In one of the poems in that book, Adjei discusses the feeling of being broken "like shattered glass," and how those feeling can prevent one from being uplifted.

Looking back, Adjei says the poem is reflective of his own journey to become a poet laureate.

"There's a line in there that says, 'If you've never known brokenness, how would you know when you were whole? If you've never been broken, then how would you measure your growth?' And so when… I think about some of the challenges that I had to go through, the anger that I had inside of me, the near death experiences, and just some of the racial tension that I had to navigate as I was growing up," Adjei said.

Despite the personal connection, Adjei said the poem is "really a reminder to all of us that no matter what we go through in life that… hardships are meant to really define us."

"I think they're meant to design and prepare us for what's to come in the future, and build our resilience," he explained.

For those who have only experienced poetry through learning Shakespeare while in school, Adjei said it is "so much more" than that.

“There's poetry in a lot of the music that we listen to, I think there's poetry in nature, I think poetry is all around us,” he said.

As well, Adjei said that poetry is “one of the most accessible art forms” for people to cope with mental health struggles and “just release some of the things in our mind.”

“When I think of poetry and its propensity to alleviate some of the hardships we're going through -- I really appreciate poetry just for that -- for the opportunity to really [have] that cathartic experience of letting go and releasing,” Adjei said.

With a file from The Canadian Press