Arts Visionaries in Edmonton Part VI
Arts Visionaries in Edmonton is a mini-series of several interviews which have been conducted with notable leaders in Edmonton’s arts community. By sharing these interviews, and the thoughts and opinions of some of the city’s strongest leaders, The Wanderer hopes to give Edmontonians a better idea of the strength of the arts in our community, and build relationships with local arts institutions.
To say that Mary Pinkoski is merely a poet would be a disservice to her craft. She is a carpenter in how beautifully she constructs her poems, she is a musician in how perfectly she unites sound and performance, she is an historian in how she taps into our community’s past and allows it to influence her work, she is a writer, a storyteller, and a dream catcher. Mary Pinkoski is a spoken word artist and she is Edmonton’s fifth Poet Laureate.
“We are all eager bundles of kindling, fire is itching to activate, the embers are inside of us. See your teeth, they are steel, and your tongue, it is flint, and your story is a hammer a striking of teeth on tongue, until there is a spark.” This stunning excerpt, taken from her performance at the 2012 Edmonton Tedx event, is just one example of her remarkable craftsmanship.
Six months ago I was fortunate enough to sit down with Mary to talk about poetry, her new position, and what inspires her work. As an English Major and someone who has always appreciated– and at times participated in–the performancing arts, I’ve always admired slam poetry or spoken word. The way it so beautifully marries public speaking, acting, writing, reading, as both a literary and performance art is unlike any other medium. Mary Pinkoski’s work in particular, as a seasoned and well recognised spoken word artist, and the top ranked female slam poet in the country, takes the art to a whole other level. Several of her performances left me breathless and moved me to tears.
It is hard to find one piece of her work which has inspired me most; perhaps it is “Four-Leaf Clover” a poem dedicated to her sister. In it she says “Dear four-leaf clover, let her see that 21st chromosome as a collector’s item. The long end of a wish bone, an antenna to the angels” articulating the beauty and strength she wishes for her sister, a line which has stuck with me ever since. When she gave her acceptance speech at the Mayor’s official appointment to her position of Poet Laureate she performed her first ever poem to and about Edmonton, with words just as precise and haunting, the entire poem can be found here but here is an excerpt: “Edmonton, your gates to the north open wide, like arms stretching into your gaping river chest. Where you can see the current of our hearts, running right through the body of this city.”
Mary Pinkoski is not only an incredible performer and writer, she is also a mentor and teacher, encouraging future generations of poets, and supporting the arts community. After interviewing Mary I realised how fortunate we are to have someone as talented, passionate, and dedicated as her leading our community and speaking to “the current of our hearts.” Mary Pinkoski is a visionary, and I hope that you will take the time to see some of her work and maybe, just maybe, you will feel inspired enough to step up to the mic yourself one day.
B: When I was reading your acceptance speech, at the very end you said “we are all made of stories, we just need to speak, we just need to listen” What is your story? Where does poetry start for you?
M: I started 9 years ago in the city and I started with the Stroll of Poets. I had been working at an internship in Missouri and that was the first time I had ever come across spoken word, or slam poetry. I thought “this is exciting!” What is this thing? I really liked it and I came back to Edmonton and I thought “What do we have?.” The Stroll of Poets were going at the time and the Raving Poets. So I started up with The Stroll and I started reading with them and then going out to the Raving Poets nights as well. I would drive—we didn’t have a slam here at the time—I would drive once or twice a year to Calgary to be in the slam there. From there I kept going and Breath in Poetry started their slam [4 years ago]. Then I was on the first Edmonton slam team, and the second.
B: Did it just start 9 years ago or did you have a love for poetry before then?
M: I’ve been interested in literature. I wasn’t a hardcore poetry writer until recently, about a decade ago. I mean, I would write some poems, but not a lot. I think for me, a lot of my writing was taken up by academics. I was writing for a newspaper […] Once I finished school and wasn’t working at the newspaper, I made the space for personal work that I really lacked on to.