Bill Arnott’s Showcase Interviews: Poet Laureate Alan Hill

Welcome back to our Showcase Interview Series – meeting talented artists through Q&A, along with a Quirky Question just for fun. Today we’re privileged to have a chat with Poet Laureate Alan Hill. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Alan at reading events around Greater Vancouver, and even sharing a stage with the man at a Royal City Literary Arts Society (RCLAS) event, where Alan wowed us with his poetic talent.

Hi Alan, welcome to the Showcase! Please introduce yourself with a bio:

(Alan.) I’m the fourth Poet Laureate of the City of New Westminster and have been widely published in North America and the UK. I’ve been writing for twenty years, starting when I worked for two years in an isolated area of Botswana, and where the change of scene and lack of the usual distractions, finally allowed me a measure of concentration. Botswana was also where I met my wife, who sponsored me to come to Canada in 2005. I was born and grew up (at least physically) in England, near the Welsh border. I’m proud to call Canada my home, and now the parent to two little Canadians, it is here that I will stay. I live in a ramshackle old wooden house in New Westminster that I am sure if the three little pigs hid in, the wicked wolf would have no trouble in blowing down. He may, however, not be able to afford to buy it.

Q. (Excellent intro.) Tell us please, what you feel you’re best known for.

A. Well, that depends on who you speak to. I’m probably best known in writing circles for my Poet Laureate work, my celebration of locality and place within the City of New Westminster. I’m known for my May Day and Remembrance Day poems, where I’ve tried to balance a line between acknowledging our very unfortunate colonial legacy and celebrating what is great about where we live. My term as Laureate finishes this year and I have been working with the City to produce a multicultural anthology of local writers exploring what our city means to them. I will probably be best known for that anthology when it finally appears. I’m best known by many as a long-standing youth soccer coach and rather average and unfit soccer player and by my kids as that annoying man who sits in the basement torturing a Banjo.

Q. (That may explain your sense of humour. I’ve yet to see a banjo player who isn’t funny!) And what brought you here?

A. At the pretentious end of things, an infinite and unknowable void, an endless swirl of gasses and dust, to which one day I will return. So really, I don’t know what brought me or anything here, and I don’t feel I need or can know. As long as I am lucky enough to be able to keep exploring life and what it means, just a little bit longer, then that is just fine. On a more everyday level, I would say it is the realization of the immense power of human creativity and how it can influence all our lives for the better if we approach this power with humility and grace and a degree of honesty. It is not ours to have and hold, only to be touched by and move through and pass on, if we can, to those around us.

Q. And who’s a role model or mentor to you?

A. Joanne Arnott, Canadian and Metis poet, activist and a fine person. Joanne has been so accepting of me and a good and graceful writer friend that has gifted more kindness and acceptance than I probably deserve, or she may be even aware of.

Q. (Beautiful. And for those who don’t know Joanne, we haven’t fully delved into family trees but with shared Winnipeg roots, we figure we’re distant cousins.) And tell us, Alan, what’s your favourite book, album, movie, and food dish?

A. Book: I’ve been rereading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, a man’s journey through Nazi death camps and his attempts to survive.

Album: John Coltrane, A Love Supreme. A long time ago as a young man I listened to this on magic mushrooms. While I don’t recommend anyone does that, it worked for me. (Bill: Ah, the simple joys of jazz and hallucinogens!)

Movie: Probably Lacombe Lucien by Louis Malle, an incredible study of the banality of evil and how ordinary people like you or I can get caught up in terrible things beyond our control.

Food: Pasta Carbonara, the first meal my wife cooked for me and a meal I could eat every day and forever, although I would probably get so fat I could not fit through the front door.

Q. (Too funny, but understandable. Those heritage home doors can be narrow.) What are you currently working on?

A manuscript exploring our relationship with other animal species besides ourselves, how animals, though our study of them, can teach us and guide us and help us to tell our stories and give clues to our past and our future. Not a unique topic but one I will be approaching with a unique (I hope) mixture of humour and seriousness.

Q. (Definitely unique strengths of yours. And perhaps an understanding of your very cool photo.) What’s your advice to others?

A. Read. Never get too caught up in a sense of your own importance – there will always be better writers out there. Embrace that fact and learn from it and take chances on new cultural experiences. However, try to write in your own style and voice and in a way that reflects what and how you really think and feel. Do not be impatient. For most of us, writing is a craft and skill it takes a lifetime to work at and is a journey with no endpoint.

(Excellent advice.) Now for a Quirky Question. Make a choice: James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard?

A. Always James T. Kirk, for me the real and only Star Trek commander. Like many people who grew up in the 1970s, any other Star Trek just seems like second best. While I’m sure Jean-Luc Picard is simply fine, James T. Kirk could throw a polystyrene boulder with real panache.

Well said! And thanks again Alan, for a fun and thought-provoking Q&A. Wishing you continued success for the remainder of your term as New Westminster Poet Laureate, and looking forward to more of your work.

Cheers friends. Stay extra safe and healthy, and we’ll see you next time, here on the Showcase!

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.