Artist, student, educator — Mary Pinkoski (’99 BA, Canadian Studies) wears many hats. And for the last year and a half, she’s added another to her hat rack of roles.
Since July 2013, Pinkoski has been Edmonton’s Poet Laureate, bringing poetry to the masses while acting as an ambassador for the city during her travels.
Her official duties as poet laureate are relatively simple: attend one city council meeting, one city-sponsored fundraising or charity event, and two City of Edmonton functions; and produce three poems every year.
“The rest is what you make of the position,” said Pinkoski. “Every poet laureate has taken the position in their own direction.”
Her direction has been to bring poetry to a wider audience, acting as an ambassador of the art form. She organizes workshops and tours, including a nine-stop tour of Ontario last summer. She also coordinates performances at the CBC Centre Stage in the City Centre Mall.
Her work as poet laureate has also allowed her to support the existing poetry community within the city, while reaching out to young writers. She runs workshops for YouthWrite for young aspiring writers, works regularly with students at Victoria School of the Arts, and is the founder of YOURS: Edmonton Youth Open Mic Series, an open mic series for youth ages 12 to 19.
Poetry was not something Pinkoski had considered or pursued during her time at UAlberta. A Canadian Studies major, her focus in school was politics and history.
It was after school, during an internship from the federal government that sent her to Missouri, that she was exposed to poetry slam, a judged competition for spoken-word artists.
“I latched onto the idea that it’s powerful to tell your story. I just started to try my hand at it. I had been working on and off as a journalist at the Sherwood Park News, finding people’s stories and telling people’s stories.”
It’s a love affair with telling stories — her own and those of the people around her – through poetry that has lasted a decade and a half. Her accomplishments extend far beyond being named Edmonton’s poet laureate: winner of the National CBC Poetry Off in 2008; third place at the 2013 Canadian Individual Slam Championship, and voted the most valuable poet of the same festival in 2011; a presenter at TEDx Edmonton and had her work featured on both CKUA and CBC.
Now she’s using her poetic gift to promote the art form in the city while building bridges to other artistic communities. She may be Edmonton’s official poet, but Pinkoski also sees herself as an ambassador of the arts as a whole. “I really just like to promote the diversity of the city, the diversity of the arts community. Edmonton sometimes gets blanketed with the image of blue collar, prairie city. Edmonton’s poetry community, for instance, is quite diverse and offers various styles of poetry.”
And of course, Pinkoski still has her own stories to tell.