In 1992, McLaughlin College decided to hold a Burns Night on the Scottish poet's birthday, January 25. At the same time, we wanted to stimulate the writing of poetry in the York community, so we instituted the McLaughlin Poetry Contest, open to all members of York except faculty. Poems could be in either of Canada's two official languages.
These two events were, of course, made for each other; and the shade of Burns inspired us to invite all participating poets to come and read some of their work on the night itself, to give the audience an idea of their quality and the pleasure of seeing the poets in the flesh. After the reading, we presented the prizes, with the poets concerned reading (in some cases, again) their prize-winning poems. Following the prize-giving we turned to Burns himself and to the traditional celebration: a piper piped in the haggis, which was then addressed with Burns's poem in praise of that delicious winter dish; it was cut open and distributed, after which there was Scottish music and a good time was had by all.
This event was so successful (the Senior Common Room was happily crammed), and the poems so good, that we decided to repeat the experiment. And so it has gone: we have become addicted. The Poetry Contest has gone on and on, and here we have just, to our pleased surprise, celebrated its nineteenth anniversary.
One word about the prizes. The McLaughlin Poetry Contest is to our knowledge the only place at York where you can win actual money ($$$) with poetry. Not much, obviously; but every little helps. The First Prize is $100; the Second Prize, $75; the Third Prize, $50. Moreover, since McLaughlin was once designated the Public Policy college, for the first ten years we have given out a Public Poetry prize, for the best poem on a subject of public interest.
Report on Robbie Burns Night - January 25, 2008
The 16th Annual McLaughlin College Robbie Burns Night, held on the occasion of the famous Scottish poet's birthday, Friday, January 25, was another roaring success, attended by 70 hardy students, fellows and guests who defied the cold. Piper Ian Greene, the College Master, piped in the haggis, and introduced Highland Dancers Marissa McLelland and Janice Conrick.
Twenty or so budding poets read their poems, introduced by MCs Bob Drummond, Dean of Arts, and Ian Greene. The first-prize winner was Sarah Wert for her poem, "Purgatory". Second was Nisa Lawson, and third was Amber Bond. Ray Gobin won in the Public Policy category, and Margaret Campbell's "Birthday Greetings Rabbie" was the poem most true to the spirit of Robbie Burns. Tony Crawford, College Fellow and stalwart of the Instructional Technology Centre, recited Burns' Address to the Haggis, while Master Ian Greene expertly carved the haggis, blades a-flailing. Several Fellows sported their kilts, including Dean Drummond, Master Greene, Tony Crawford, and McLaughlin Student Council speaker George Blake. Two haggises were consumed in their entirety, along with neeps, tatties, and the occasional scotch. A highlight of the evening was Dean Bob Drummond's poem poking fun at the year in Canadian and international politics.
The first McLaughlin Burns Night was a result of a conversation between McLaughlin Fellow Roger Kuin, and the late Ben Wicks, cartoonist, author, and literacy advocate. Roger has organized the poetry contest each year, and continues to do so electronically from his permanent home in France. Now that Roger is fully retired, he was not physically present for Burns Night for the first time, but he was definitely there in spirit, having judged the poems submitted with the help of Professor Emeritus Maurice Elliot and McLaughlin Fellow Derek Cohen.