For Immediate Release / November 5, 2021

In Conversation with St. Albert's Poet Laureate: Julia Sorensen

Julia Sorensen’s term as St. Albert’s Poet Laureate has been overshadowed by one particular theme: the COVID-19 pandemic. While most Poet Laureates can expect to cheer on the community at celebrations and events, during her time as Poet Laureate, Sorensen has mostly been called upon to help us make sense of a period that has been overwhelmingly difficult to process. 

She was named to her position in May 2020, reading a poem at City Council just a couple of months into the first quarantine. Called “Vivid Dreaming,” the poem explored the idea that our dreams might become more vivid in times of crisis. She was called back to City Council again in March 2021, to read a poem in acknowledgment that we had, as a community, been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic for one whole year. In between, she zoomed in to events to recite poetry that tackled mental health and reflected this strange new reality.   

“In those times, I think there were lots of attempted poems before I came upon a poem that I thought was adequate enough to articulate something that was being asked of me,” says Sorensen of her pandemic-poetry duties. “And even then, those felt like a bit of a failure. I think that when I feel that I succeeded most, it would be in really articulating personal experience and hoping that it would be relatable. 

“I always feel a little bit facetious, if I'm assuming that I can speak for more than myself. I suppose the goal is to speak for myself as accurately as possible and function under the assumption that I am not entirely isolated in the feelings that I'm having. I think that's probably what a successful artist does—is reflect themselves and, in doing so, reflect the world or communities in which they exist.” 

Though she might be hesitant to admit her poetry was fitting for those aforementioned moments, Sorensen’s style is particularly well suited to help us work through these confusing times: it’s heavy with feeling. Though it may come from an acutely personal place, she’s able to unpack and re-package difficult emotions. Her poetry is curious and challenging and when you see her present it in person—sharing all those feelings with an expectant crowd—it can only be described as courageous. 

“I don't think of it very much in terms of courage, because the primary reason that I write is for myself,” explains Sorensen. “For a good number of years, the primary motivating factor for writing poetry was trauma. It was very much a place in which to process things and certainly not all of those poems were shared. I don't think that I write from a place of trauma anymore, which is nice, I think, to have that privilege. But, for me, poetry is still really introspective and meditative. It's a mode through which I can understand complex feelings that I'm having. The fact that these poems end up shared afterwards is just kind of a by-product.” 

That’s not to say she hasn’t had second thoughts on stage. 

“There are moments where I'm reading something for an audience and I'm like, ‘oh, this is too personal’, she says with a laugh. “So that confidence sometimes is feigned.  

“But I also think that I'm trying to get to a point in my life where I'm not ashamed of expressing how I feel.”  


While she is only 23, she’s been working on expressing those feeling since an almost unimaginably young age.  According to Sorensen, she’s been writing songs, including lyrics, since about Grade one or two. She didn’t write her first poem, however, until Grade seven, where she was required to write a ballade about the movie Titanic.  

“I know, super cheesy and lame,” she says with a smile. “And I'm sure the poem sucked. I don't know where it is now or what it is thankfully, but something clicked for me.” 

Three years later, she was dragged into a meeting of the Bellerose Slam Poetry Club by a friend and Karen May Healey—one of the school’s English teachers.  

“Especially when it comes to youth arts programming, it really needs to be very active,” she says. “Getting people involved sometimes feels like pulling teeth. And it's not a bad thing. It's, in fact, a good thing. I think everybody needs a bit of convincing when it comes to something like that, because arts practices feel very dear to us and maybe we are just constantly really self-conscious of them. So we don't want to be put in an environment where we feel like that practice is going be put under a microscope. But doing that is actually the only way that we can get better at the arts practice.”  

A version of ‘God bless Mrs. May Healey’ is a common refrain from those who have joined May Healey’s poetry programs. For Sorensen, the club and the associated poetry slams and competitions introduced her to the poetry community and made her deeply invested in the work. She also found success there: her team won the 2016 Alberta Poetry Slam, Can You Hear Me Now? And at just 16, she was offered her first gig—the featured artist slot at a Calgary Open Mic, to which, of course, her mom had to drive her. 


Fast forward to 2021, as this health crisis drags on, and this November she’s being asked to once again fulfill her duties as Poet Laureate by reflecting on the moment with a new project that will see poetry pop-up all around St. Albert; including, on buses, on social media and adorning the entrances to St. Albert Place. Titled “eight realisations from a visit with old friends in fall 2021,” the piece is more hopeful, more cheerful than, perhaps, some of the other pieces she’s been able to share in the pandemic. It promises to quietly spread a sense of optimism and gratitude throughout the City.  

But, as Sorensen points out, the role of Poet Laureate is so much bigger than the period of time any particular poet is writing in.  

“I'm not necessarily talking about myself, but I think positions like this really solidify the importance of poetry, or of an art form, in a really tangible way,” she says. “What we're talking about is an individual practicing their discipline, required to do things in the community. You have this level where poetry's always visible and you're always having one person work on that. 

“I think that the individual is so very key to inspiration and inspiration is often the starting place for other people. So I was inspired by other poets in the Bellerose Slam Club and I'm inspired by other poets and artists who I work with. So having a poet who is in the community working can help, hopefully, inspire other people to produce art.” 

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Last edited: November 4, 2021