SACKVILLE, N.B. – Children at the local elementary school know her as the “poetry lady.” And that title sits just fine with Shoshanna Wingate.
Wingate knows full well how the power of words can have a huge impact on a young person’s life – and she hopes to be able to continue to bring even just a bit of that passion for poetry to Sackville youth.
She says kids are more open to being creative with words during their childhood years and it’s an opportune time to introduce them to poetry.
“I think kids love the playfulness of language,” she says. “They’re open to the silliness and the sounds. A lot of what poetry does is take an idea and look at it from different angles. And that’s kind of the way children look at the world.”
Wingate has been an integral part of the town’s poetry month events over the past couple of years, bringing her poetry and teachings to every single class at Salem Elementary School as part of youth activities. She has also hosted several writing workshops and served as judge for the town’s writing contests.
Wingate hopes to continue to serve in that mentorship role as she takes on the post of Sackville’s poet laureate, an honour appointed to her by the town effective Jan. 1. Wingate will be Sackville’s third poet laureate, following in the footsteps of Marilyn Lerch, who recently stepped down after a four-year stint, and the late Douglas Lochead.
Lerch says when she first met Wingate, she was immediately impressed by the way she was throwing herself into the community, both joining and initiating.
"Whether she was fashioning lovely scarves using earth materials or reading her poetry in public or starting the Art Hive, she was all willingness and enthusiasm," says Lerch.
Since then, the two have worked closely together on a number of literary projects and Lerch says her admiration has only continued to grow.
"As both executive director of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick and Sackville Poet Laureate, Shoshanna can continue the task of making Tantramar a vital centre of literary activity for all ages."
Wingate explains how she fell in love with poetry in Grade 5, when she was tasked with an assignment to memorize a text and recite it in front of the class. At the advice of her father and his poetry group, she selected a poem by Edgar Allen Poe and says she soon discovered how freeing it was to deliver such powerful words.
“There was just something exciting about it . . . it was really overwhelming,” she says. “I think the power of the words really struck me.”
The award-winning author, poet, writer and editor says she’s been reading and writing poetry ever since.
Wingate says her dad was very influential in helping bring poetry into her life so she knows how important it is to have that encouragement and that guidance along the way, to help develop your own style and interest.
Wingate attended Burlington College in Vermont, a Liberal arts school where she obtained a degree with a major in writing and minor in Holocaust studies. Her last two years of her program she lived and corresponded from Berlin. She later obtained a masters in poetry from The New School in New York.
She has made her home in Atlantic Canada since 2004, first in St. John’s, N.L., and then relocating to Sackville, N.B. about four years ago.
Wingate’s poetry chapbook, Homing Instinct, was published by Frog Hollow Press in 2012. Her full-length poetry collection, Radio Weather, was published by Vehicule Press in 2014. She has also had a number of individual poems published throughout the years and is currently working on a memoir.
Wingate teaches creative writing workshops for both adults and youth, and runs the Sackville Art Hive, a free community art studio.
Her goal, she says, is to help people understand the value of poetry and why it should be appreciated.
During council’s monthly meeting in December, at which the poet laureate appointment was made, Coun. Andrew Black voiced his pleasure over the town’s selection for the post.
“I’m super happy with this decision,” said Black. “I’ve known Shoshanna for quite some time since she’s been in town and her active involvement in the community of what you’ve listed goes way beyond that as well. I think that she’s just going to be a perfect fit for this.”