Published on March 31, 2021
Celebrate Poetry Month with St. Albert’s Poet Laureate
Every year in April, National Poetry Month is celebrated to honour poets and poetry in our culture. It is a month-long celebration of poetry to help us better appreciate the life of poets and the art of poetry.
Mayor Cathy Heron proclaimed the month of April as National Poetry Month in the City of St. Albert. Poetry is an essential part of the arts and humanities, and affects many aspects of life, including education and community pride. National Poetry Month celebrates poetry, writing and the contribution of poets and all writers to the identity and quality of life of our communities.
To kick off the start of National Poetry Month, we interviewed St. Albert’s Poet Laureate, Julia Sorensen. In partnership with the St. Albert Public Library, the City of St. Albert champions literary and cultural development for the community through the Poet Laureate. Julia Sorensen will be St. Albert’s Poet Laureate for 2020 through 2022.
Julia Sorensen is St. Albert’s second Poet Laureate and a published writer, musician and visual artist from Treaty Six territory. She has performed spoken word and music at Edmonton Poetry Festival, SkirtsAFire, Seven Music Festival, Berlin Spoken Word, St. Albert’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts, and Amplify Festival.
Julia spoke to the City of St. Albert about her activities during her tenure as the Poet Laureate and what inspires her to create written works of art.
Q&A with Julia
1. What led you to poetry?
Writing music led me to poetry. As a kid I wrote songs and lyrics. Writing has been a massive part of my life and writing is, I don’t know, the gateway to poetry, potentially. I began to consider myself a poet in Grade Seven when we started the poetry unit. I remember writing a ballad about the film The Titanic and being satisfied with the end result and in that moment, I knew poetry was for me. I distinctly remember that was a catalyst for me to write poetry more seriously.
2. Has poetry always been a part of your life?
Poetry, very often, at least in my experience, is a part of life. Poetry is always there even if it may not be the most explicit thing that is happening. When I try to process things that I have done or experienced, meaningful, or not, either way; poetry is a really good way to process everything from massive experiences to just the day. There is poetry in everything.
3. What could poetry bring to people's lives? What case would you make for its importance?
Poetry is a very individual thing especially when it comes to parsing meaning in poetry. I am always a bit leery of telling people what to think when they read my poetry or when they read or hear any poetry. Understanding poetry is your visceral reaction to it. Poetry is not only the meaning of the words that you are saying, but also the way that they sound, the way that they look, the way they are structured on the page, it can be very visceral. Meaning is not always something that you can articulate. One of the good things about poetry is it comes up to this wall that we have that separates the speakable from the unspoken. Poetry can enhance your life by getting as close as we can to the things we can’t say, to the things we can’t articulate with language and some things that are beyond language. Writing poetry can help you process things that are very difficult to discuss or help you process trauma.
4. What is your favourite poet/poem?
My favourite poem is “Autonomy is Free” by a poet named Noelle Kocot. I read this poem in an Anthology of Surveillance Poetics for a university class. It was a poem I read eight times with no idea what to think about it. I had no idea what it meant, so I sat with it for eight hours; that process is really rewarding for me.
5. What has poetry done for you?
Poetry has given me a voice that I would not have without it. It has given me a mode of address, to and of the world and my experiences, and in that way it has saved my life as well as shaped it. Most of the fulfilling things that I have done have had to do with poetry whether it be teaching it, performing it or building communities around it. Writing poetry is a big part of my identity and I do not think I could separate the two.
6. What does it mean to you to be St. Albert’s Poet Laureate?
Being St. Albert’s Poet Laureate is a tangible connection to the place that I grew up and it is legitimizing for someone who practices a specific art form that is not always immediately thought of as worthwhile. The title of Poet Laureate has given me a voice or a platform that I would not have had otherwise. As the Poet Laureate, I speak to different audiences other than just as a poet or a performance poet. It is a big responsibility to decide not only what to say, but how to say it and whether it is tasteful. I have had an awesome experience so far as St. Albert’s Poet Laureate.
7. Has there been a particular Poet Laureate whose tenure you wanted to use as a model?
I look to Edmonton’s Poet Laureate, Nisha Patel, simply because she is ahead of me in her career, and I aspire to be a practicing poet as she is and make that my main career. I also find it extremely inspiring how often she will use her platform in a way that she should. She talks about major issues and brings things to light in a way that one with that platform has a responsibility to. She has challenged status quo. I admire Nisha’s work and the confidence she has in it. She does not take anything from anybody, she asks for what she deserves which I think a lot of artists do not have the wherewithal to do.
8. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve gotten to do so far as Poet Laureate?
One of the most meaningful things that I have done is read a poem that I wrote at the Suicide Awareness Vigil. There is something else in the works which will probably be the most interesting thing that I have done. Check my website or follow what is going on in the City so you can be updated when that collaboration hopefully happens.
9. Is there a certain poem that you keep with you?
Something that I keep in my space is a letter that my uncle wrote to my dad. I must have been 14 or 15 when he received the letter, and it is the best piece of writing I have ever read. It will probably be with me for my whole life. I have never written anything that’s been as well put as that letter. I find it very inspiring, and I have a deep appreciation for how it is written. I suppose that is the closest thing to having a poem on my person.
10. What excites you about the City? Or inspires you?
What is inspiring about the City is how committed the City of St. Albert is to arts programming. It is part of the City’s branding as well; there is a mandate to maintain arts programming in the City. When I was growing up, I thought all municipalities are committed to the arts, but then I realized this is something special we should foster and safeguard.
11. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I am a very good amateur Tetris player. I have a considerably high score in Tetris.
12. What books are on your to-be-read list?
I recently bought Claire Keegan’s Antarctica because I reread her other collection of short stories called Walk the Blue Fields. Most of things on my to-be-read list are the books I like to read over and over again: James Joyce’s The Dubliners and my textbooks when I’m studying during semester.
Julia Sorensen, St. Albert’s Poet Laureate, read the following poem during the Council Meeting on March 15:
View The Full Poem
by Julia Sorensen
A year ago in your curtained
kitchen you put yourself in
your pestle and mortar and started
mashing. As it happened you decided
you smelled of a scalp shaded by a sunhat
during monsoon season, of desperate
hindsight, of organs squeezing themselves
through the everyday labyrinth from bed
to kitchen to desk to kitchen to toilet to
desk to couch. While you thought on
a future where you would lean in and laugh
to someone without worrying what tiny
creatures could pass between your mouths,
you wept yourself into a mason jar labelled
open me when this is all over and set
yourself down in the back of the fridge
beside your abandoned sourdough starter.
Every morning you slept late yet woke
too early. Every day you were pungent
with the present.
Yesterday in your curtains-open kitchen
you were still mashing, still mashing.
Your dreams of saying congratulations
to ears instead of microphones and
kissing brand-new, dimpled knuckles are
interrupted by email invitations to digitized
weddings and wakes. You want to dig
until you strike a settled feeling, a certainty,
a precise moment when we will say
this is all over and slurp peaches
from a shared can on a beach or
simply fall asleep without worrying.
Yet today, in a moment of realism, you
stare out your curtainless kitchen window
and think on the arbitrariness of end
dates, of the one-thousand-nine-hundred-
thirty-five, the twenty-two-thousand-
four-hundred-four, the two-point-
six-four million, the rise of it all.
You are, during this moment of silence, still
the mush on the shelf, whispering to
ghosts with machinations of nothing
but the now.
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Last edited: March 30, 2021