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Arienette Zak named St. Albert's new poet laureate

The Bellerose High graduate received her start in Grade 9 at an open mic
The City of St. Albert's new poet laureate, Arienette Zak, reads her poem, one for me, council chambers on Tuesday, April 16.

It’s nearly a decade since Arienette Zak first stepped up to a microphone to recite poetry at the defunct Arcadia Cafe on St. Anne Street. 

Currently, with a series of celebrated poems and projects to her name, the Bellerose Composite High School graduate has been named the City of St. Albert’s next poet laureate. As part of National Poetry Month across Canada, Mayor Cathy Heron announced her name at the Tuesday, April 16 council meeting. 

Looking back at her first cafe recitation Zak said, “I made up a poem on the spot. It wasn’t very good. I’m glad there were no smart phones to record it back then.” 

Zak turned her attention to poetry as a way of expressing herself and finding common ground with others. 

“My mom and dad separated when I was in Grade 6. My mom moved to St. Albert, and it was a different experience. It was largely the social circles. In Edmonton, a lot of people lived in my neighbourhood, and I knew everyone on the block. Everyone had their own experience and stories. In St. Albert, I knew only one of my neighbours. I found St. Albert to be a little more insular,” said Zak. 

Her first attempt at performing the spoken word has led to many high-profile regional poetry arts events, including the Edmonton Poetry Festival, Edmonton Fringe, Amplify, Illuminate, SkirtsAfire and St. Albert’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. 

Many poets, such as Zak, use poetry as a way of healing and making sense of the world around them. 

“I take my emotions and I funnel them into something tangible. It’s a way to examine my situation and it’s very cathartic. I like the community around poetry, and I’ve had people commenting on the artistry and what you put on paper,” Zak said. 

Her defining moment came in 2016 when Bellerose High earned gold at Alberta’s 2016 High School Poetry Slam Championship. 

“I thought ‘wow!’ This poetry could really go somewhere.” 

One of her proudest achievements was collaborating with fellow poet Julia Sorenson on a SkirtsAfire project To Love and Be Loved. 

“We were having lunch together and the person she was working with cancelled on the project. She was expressing frustration and I offered to help. We started sketching on a napkin and quickly put together a 30-to-40-minute set, and a friend did the backing tracks.” 

Zak is currently finishing up a new 80-page book she hopes to turn into an album. In Drizzle/In Embers was an idea that grew from dealing with roller-coaster emotions. 

“Every morning for me is a desert, every evening a flood. In Drizzle are the quiet moments of reflection. In Embers is more about amplitude, how much I feel instead. Lots of my poems are about love and intense emotions.” 

Writing poetry and working as a volunteer coach for STARK Poets mentoring young poets is ideal. But it doesn’t pay the bills. During the day, Zak works at Costco’s hearing aid centre at Edmonton’s east location. She is currently in the hearing practitioner program delivered through MacEwan University. 

“I enjoy helping people hear. I’m quite social and elderly people love to talk. I’m able to forge those real relationships.” 

During her two-year term as poet laureate, Zak will be considered a cultural and literary ambassador, and as a champion for poetry, language and the arts. She will receive $1,000 annually during this partnership between St. Albert Public Library and City of St. Albert.   

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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