Published on July 7, 2022
Introducing St. Albert’s Next Poet Laureate: Lauren Seal
Lauren Seal was writing before she even knew how to write.
At just five-years old, she would take letterhead from her father’s office and fold it crosswise, emulating the bind of a book. Then she would draw a front cover, a title page and fill the rest of the pages with drawings, childhood attempts at letters, swirls that mimicked cursive writing and general kindergarten hieroglyphics.
As is so often the case, it took an attentive Grade-school teacher to take note of her literary skills.
“I didn't think I was good at writing and I didn't like it,” says Seal, recalling a school assignment from Grade six. “Then I had this one teacher where I wrote a story and she handed it back and said, like, ‘Lauren, you're a really talented writer. This was such a fun read!’
“I just clamped onto that. I was like, ‘oh, I'm good at this.’”
A few years later, it was the influence of another teacher (and Canadian young adult fiction writer), Gail Sidonie Sobat that encouraged a teenaged Seal to attend YouthWrite, a summer camp for young authors, and to join the Spoken Word Youth Choir.
Seal at YouthWrite, supported by Sidonie Sobat.
“Gail was the first who said, ‘Lauren, these poems are beautiful,’” says Seal. “Because I had always just wrote for myself. I'd let her read them and she was like, ‘why aren't you sending these out? Why aren't you trying to get published? You need to start getting yourself out there.’”
Recognizing the influence mindful mentorship and little pushes here and there have had on Seal’s progress as a poet, it seems particularly fitting that she’s now in the position to do the same as Poet Laureate.
“I want to engage the city and everyone in the city,” she says of her plans for her two-year stint as the People’s Poet. “I want to show them [that] poetry is fun, poetry is accessible. It's not just like e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman.
“You can read poetry, you can write poetry and you don't even have to be good at it. That's one thing I want to do: I want to show you can just have fun with it and write terrible poetry. I write terrible poetry all the time! So everyone can do that. Take the pressure and elitism people sometimes see in poetry, that isn't necessarily there, out of it.”
Seal is soft-spoken, at least at first. She exudes a gentleness, and her smiling-eyes radiate with a warmth you can see reflected in half her poetry—the words she writes about puddle-jumping as a child visiting her Grandparents in St. Albert, the words that share how she conquered the big waterslide with her father’s help or words that meditate on the beauty in something as simple as a city street on the cusp of winter.
But there’s another side to Seal’s poetry—one that’s raw and revealing. One that both directly and honestly tackles subjects like mental health, anorexia, and illness.
“I feel like there's almost two poetic versions of me,” explains Seal. “There’s really raw personal poetry—the stuff I need to get out. Those come about where, I have a feeling and I just need to get it out there.”
“But then it gets hard to just write stuff like that—about all of the traumas, the stuff I've gone through and all of the really difficult things.”
In 2021, Seal was accepted into the Writer’s Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program, where she worked with the former Executive Director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival and the current Regional Writer-in-Residence, Rayanne Haines, on a novel and verse manuscript.
Focused on a female figure in a psychiatric hospital struggling with an eating disorder, Seal took 400 pages of her writing and whittled it down to 200. She describes the work as, unsurprisingly, “heavy,” and after she was done, she was encouraged by those around her to take a break from the heavier subjects to try “playing.”
“I found that when I give myself the time to be playful and notice lighter things, that those poems also work,” she says. “They're just more fun and easier to get out sometimes.”
While Seal is just starting out in the role of St. Albert’s third Poet Laureate, she has already shown both ‘sides’ of her poetry. She marked her appointment to the position at City Council with a misty-eyed memory of playing in St. Albert’s spring puddles. Conversely, a reading of her piece “Wildfires”—a metaphor for how mental health problems can ravage the mind, swiping across the psyche and growing from what was merely a spark—was shared at the 2022 Mental Health Awareness Walk. In both cases, her words ringing deeply true with those in attendance.
But that’s the gig: reflecting the city and the issues affecting the community back to its residents in a way that resonates. Even, and maybe most importantly, when those issues aren’t easy to talk about.
“I know I'm not the only one who's going through this,” says Seal of her more emotionally challenging poems, “and other people might also need to hear this or hear, ‘it’s okay that you feel like this.’ Even if it's just validating, like, ‘you can feel like this’ or saying, ‘I've been there, other people have been there.’ You're not alone. I think that's just really important.”
Last edited: June 24, 2022