Will Lillian Allen be Toronto’s seventh Poet Laureate?  


The CBC called her the “Word Warrior”

By Stephen Weir

Lillian Allen

In a move that has delighted Toronto’s literary and dub music communities, City of Toronto staff have recommended acclaimed poet, writer/performer, and arts activist Lillian Allen to become Toronto’s seventh Poet Laureate. The recommendation is pending approval by City Council at its next meeting in May – it is a given that Allen will get the nod.

The Jamaican-Canadian was nominated by a selection committee in consultation with the literary community. She is a leader in dub poetry, a politically charged, reggae-infused poetry of resistance and visionary futures. The 74-year-old has been named a foremother of Canadian poetry by the League of Canadian Poets and is a two-time JUNO Award winner and trailblazer in spoken word and dub poetry.

Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, she left that country in 1969, first moving to New York City before settling in Toronto. She is a poet, author, and recording artist, having released her first recording, Dub Poet: The Poetry of Lillian Allen, in 1983. In addition to her on-stage artistic accomplishments, Allen is also a professor of creative writing at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU).

The Poet Laureate position was established in 2001 to honour a Toronto poet whose work displays excellence and who has written on themes relevant to Torontonians. The Laureate is an ambassador for poetry and the arts and infuses poetry into a range of official and informal city activities to attract people to the literary world. The Poet Laureate’s mandate also includes creating a legacy project that will be unique to the individual.

Allen’s appointment as Poet Laureate is for three years, and she will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for serving as Toronto’s literary ambassador championing local literary arts and wordsmiths. Toronto’s distinguished list of Poets Laureate since 2001 includes Dennis Lee, Pier Giorgio di Cicco, Dionne Brand, George Elliott Clarke, Anne Michaels, and Al Moritz (A.F. Moritz).

Allen’s legacy project, which will be announced at a later date, is eagerly awaited by the city’s literary community. As Toronto’s seventh Poet Laureate, Allen is expected to build on the work of her predecessors and inspire new generations of Torontonians to explore the world of poetry and the arts.


I FIGHT BACK by Lillian Allen -1988

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

These are privileged names in my Country


My Children Scream

My Grandmother is dying

I came to Canada

And Found the Doors

Of Opportunities Well Guarded

I Scrub Floors

Serve Backra’s Meals on Time

Spend two days working in one

And Twelve Days a Week

Here I Am in Canada

Bring Up Someone Else’s Child

While someone Else and Me in Absentee

Bring Up My Own


“Oh Beautiful Tropical Beach

With Coconut Tree and Rum,

Why did you Leave There

Why on Earth did you come?”


For the Same reasons

Your Mothers Came


They label me

Immigrant, Law-breaker, illegal

Ah No, Not Mother, Not Worker, Not Fighter


Like my Sisters Before Me




By Lillian Allen -1988