Editor’s note: The Fredericton Cultural Laureate position was created in 2016 and inaugurated
by Ian Letourneau. Jenna Lyn Albert was Poet Laureate from January of 2019. In December 2020 a motion was presented to revise the role of Poet Laureate, removing the poetry reading from bi-weekly city council meetings and increasing the number of poems required to be written. An outpouring of support for the position followed, including a virtual protest held on Dec. 14, 2020, featuring participation by Poet Laureates around the country. The motion was voted down by a margin of 1 vote on Jan. 26, 2021, but the position of Cultural Laureate is being reevaluated and has not been filled. On Jan. 28, 2021, an editorial ran in the Irving-owned Daily Gleaner advocating for the cancellation of the role of Poet Laureate in the city of Fredericton: “Fredericton’s poet laureate position was meant to be a unifying symbol, but instead it’s becoming a divisive distraction. Rather than waste any more time finding an appropriate role for the poet laureate at council meetings, council should scrap its tradition of biweekly poem readings and return its focus to the real issues facing our city.” Not coincidentally, the editorial was published the last day of Albert’s two-year term. Following this article, Albert circulated this post on her Facebook Page.
A friend just informed me of the Daily Gleaner editorial posted today [Jan. 28, 2021], titled
“Ditch poem readings at council.”
As many of you know, I have been advocating to keep the tradition of reading poetry during the
moment of reflection at regular city council meetings. That, or at least giving incoming laureates
the choice as to whether or not they would like to do so. I also advocated for future poet laureates
to be better compensated for their hard work.
City council meetings have been a valuable platform, one I used over my laureateship to draw
attention to community concerns including the Black Lives Matter movement and abortion
access. Over my term I shared poems about the about systemic racism and police brutality,
reproductive healthcare, homelessness, MMIWG, sexual assault– so many issues that should
concern citizens. The majority of the poems I shared were written by BIPOC, disabled,
LGBTQIA2S+ or otherwise marginalized poets. Voices that aren’t heard at city council
This editorial is not surprising. Poets and artists across all mediums are familiar with being made
to feel that their work does not have value in political settings. It does not deter me from pushing
for future poet laureates to be granted that platform and for them to be paid fairly. We all heard
Amanda Gorman’s poem at Biden’s inauguration, right? Yet we still question the value of the arts
in political spaces.
While I was not named in this editorial, it’s clear that the sentiments expressed within it are
directed at me for being difficult. Opinionated. Too political. Guilty.
I sincerely hope that future poet laureates feel that they can share poems about topics that might
make people uncomfortable without backlash. I hope they don’t have to go through the emotional labour that these controversies have caused because it is exhausting. I hope they don’t have to explain to politicians why a poem about systemic racism deserves to be shared in a public forum. Above all, I hope they feel the community support that I have felt.
Jenna Lyn Albert’s poetry has appeared in many Canadian literary magazines such as The Malahat Review, The Puritan, Riddle Fence, and The Temz Review. Her debut collection of poetry, Bec & Call, was published with Nightwood Editions in September 2018. She served a two-year term as the City of Fredericton’s Poet Laureate (2019-2020).