New exhibit celebrates work of Prince Albert’s unofficial poet laureate

Four collections of John. V. Hicks’ poetry sit on display as part of ‘Drawn from Words’, the newest exhibit at the Margo Fournier Arts Centre. -- Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald

One of Prince Albert’s most celebrated artists will have his work front and centre for the next month at the Margo Fournier Arts Centre.

‘Drawn from Words’, the newest Arts Centre exhibit, focuses on the poetry of John V. Hicks, with illustrations from Hicks’ good friend, George Glenn. The show coincides with National Poetry Month and the 25th anniversary of Hicks’ passing.

“It’s great to have an opportunity to reflect on the fact that we had an international poet in Prince Albert—just a regular guy, a neighbour, a friend, the guy who rang the bell at the Art Centre,” Glenn said during an interview on Thursday. “I hope the exhibition conveys to people who never had a chance to meet Jack that he was just a regular guy and his poems are very accessible.”

John V. Hicks, or Jack to his friends, published 10 books of poetry in his lifetime and received a number of accolades, including a Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Saskatchewan Arts Board in 1990, and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1992.

In Prince Albert, he is remembered as the City’s unofficial Poet Laureate who would facilitate meetings with other writers to read and discuss their creations.

“Jack was always ‘in residence’ at the Art Centre,” Glenn remembered. “He would ring the bell once at three and once at four, and in between he’d make a big pot of tea and everyone would come in and visit.”

Glenn met Hicks shortly after moving to Prince Albert in 1975. The two became close friends, bonding over their shared sense of humour and musical tastes. That friendship deepened when Hicks asked Glenn to create artwork for one of his poetry books that was about to be published.

Glenn eventually illustrated book covers for four of Hicks’ poetry collections, and the preliminary sketches from those efforts form the basis of ‘Drawn from Words’.

“When (exhibit organizer) Jesse Campbell was here at my studio, I had a box of stuff that we were going through, and all of the preliminary drawings for those book covers were in that box,” Glenn explained. “It coincided with the time when she was just putting together an idea for the John V. Hicks Gallery and she wanted to do something related to the 25th year since his passing.

“When she saw these pieces, she thought it would be a great idea to put them together with the books of poetry and some of the poetry, which was great. It just kind of happened. The box kind of fell into our hands and we went with that. It brought up all kinds of memories.”

Glenn will be at the Margo Fournier Arts Centre on Saturday to give an artists talk at the exhibit’s opening reception on Saturday. Local poet Lynda Monahan will also be there to read some of her favourite selections from Hicks’ work.

Monahan was an early student of Hicks’. She remembers visiting his house on the East Hill as a budding poet to discuss her work.

“I shared some of my early poems with him, and I kind of cringe when I think of that now,” Monahan said with a chuckle, “but Jack was nothing but gracious to me. He encouraged me to look at the importance of everyday things and he taught me about being still and listening for the poem.

“I learned a lot from Jack about what makes for a good poem. He was very much a mentor to me as he was to many, many other Saskatchewan and Canadian poets.”

Since then, Monahan has gone on to publish multiple poetry collections. She also continues Hicks’ legacy of working with budding poets in the Prince Albert area by running creative writing workshops and serving a term as the writer in residence at the John. M. Cuelenaere Public Library.

Monahan said it’s an honour to participate in the opening reception for the new exhibit. She hopes it will bring new attention to Hicks’ work.

“I always think his poetry is pure music,” she said. “That’s what really stands out for me—and the influence of the older poets like Robert Frost. He certainly carried on a tradition. He always said that he stood on the shoulder of giants.”

The opening reception for ‘Drawn from Words’ is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Margo Fournier Arts Centre on Saturday, April 20. The exhibit runs until May 23.