This past weekend, we celebrated UAlberta’s Alumni Weekend (Sept 24-27, 2015), and the Faculty of Arts has been proud to share the stories of our inspiring alumni. The faculty hits a key milestone this year with 50,000 alumni contributing in all areas of life worldwide. Watch for more inspiring alumni award winner profiles this week.
We encourage all Arts grads to proudly identify as #1of50K on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all year long!
As a child, Mary Pinkoski (’99 BA, ’06 BEd) didn’t know she was going to be a poet when she grew up. She didn’t compose couplets in her journal, didn’t write rhymes in her head, but she was always putting pen to paper.
“I’ve always done writing of some sort,” says Pinkoski. “In high school, and when I was doing my bachelor of arts degree at the University of Alberta, I wrote for the Sherwood Park News. I’ve always been interested in telling people’s stories.”
A love of telling stories, including stories about Canada’s history, and a talent for telling them in new and engaging ways has made Pinkoski one of Canada’s best spoken word poets.
Taking the road less travelled
“My education built a solid foundation for me to be able to explore a multitude of opportunities,” she says. “But it also taught me to not say ‘no’ to opportunities, even though they may seem outside of the realm of an obvious path.”
Pinkoski began her postsecondary education with a bachelor of arts degree in Canadian studies at UAlberta, and then continued with a master of arts degree in Canadian Studies from Concordia University. The multidisciplinary approach of these degree programs gave her a broad knowledge base in her areas of interest.
She returned to Edmonton, her old stomping grounds, to complete a bachelor of education at the U of A, which allowed her to explore diverse subjects. “In education, the idea of flexibility and working in alternative environments was highlighted even more,” explains Pinkoski.
And the timing was perfect. “It was around that time when I started doing work in schools with poetry and getting quite involved in museum education. In fact, I still run Fort School at Fort Edmonton Park and do poetry workshops at schools.”
“I know a lot of people get hung up on the idea that art isn’t meant to be judged, but I am a competitive person by nature.”
Bringing poetry to the people
Pinkoski has perfected her craft over the past decade or so, and participated in poetry competitions locally, nationally and internationally.
In 2008 she won the National CBC Poetry Faceoff — a win that opened doors and inspired her to start a poetry group for youth, YOURS: Edmonton Youth Open Mic Series.
“I know a lot of people get hung up on the idea that art isn’t meant to be judged, but I am a competitive person by nature,” says Pinkoski. “Being involved in a poetry slam at a national level drives you to prepare quality poems by a deadline, so that pushes your writing, your art, to do something new.”
Pinkoski was named Edmonton’s fifth poet laureate in 2013, a two-year position which she just wrapped up this past summer. As poet laureate, she became known for her work to make the role more visible, doing more than 200 public performances and writing more than 30 poems for various organizations across the city.
The new position will be youth driven, and the hope is that each Youth Poet Laureate will mentor the next person as they depart.
“One of the main goals I had going in to be the poet laureate was to leave the position with a legacy that gave back to the community and [would] continue to grow,” explains Pinkoski.
“Another goal has been to bring poetry to places in Edmonton where it hasn’t been before and show people that telling a story through poetry is accessible, not boring, and that in their everyday conversations and how they live, is telling Edmonton’s story.”
“I’m grateful to be able to have the opportunity to use poetry to enhance community in Edmonton, and to be given those chances where I can make people’s lives fuller through my poems.”
Looking to the future
As a performer and educator, Pinkoski has used her passions for poetry and people to build opportunities for others to explore poetry.
Now she is back at UAlberta’s Faculty of Education, working on a master’s degree in educational policy studies. As part of that program, she is doing an internship at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Her task at the prestigious institution is to develop a poetry-centred educational component for a large exhibition about water that will tour the United States beginning in 2016.
“I’m researching poems about water and bodies of water in the U.S. to inspire people to create their own poems about their ideas and experience with water,” says Pinkoski.
Reflecting on the places her poetry has taken her so far, Pinkoski says, “I’m just grateful to be able to have the opportunity to use poetry to enhance community in Edmonton, and to be given those chances where I can make people’s lives fuller through my poems.”
In recognition of her many accomplishments and work in the community, Pinkoski received an Alumni Horizon Award at the University of Alberta 2015 Alumni Awards ceremony.
This article was first published in the Faculty of Education’s Illuminate Magazine.