Fredericton poet laureate Jenna Lyn Albert is being faced with a mixture of criticism and support from city councillors after a poetry reading that preceded a city council meeting on Monday, September 28.
“This province still, in 2020, is not listening and taking the concerns of women seriously,” said Albert.
Albert began her reading before the commencement of the city council meeting, a tradition she had kept up during her position as poet laureate. The poem, “Those Who Need To Hear This Won’t Listen” by Canadian poet Conyer Clayton, addresses the abortion experience as one that isn’t necessarily negative.
“I chose this poem because I felt that not only was it a great representation of the experience that a lot of people seeking out abortions go through,” Albert explained. “A lot of people still experience the frequent questioning of whether they are sure if they want the service or not… not everyone regrets this.”
The reading was done in anticipation of the September 30 closure of Clinic 554, a family practice that was the only place in Fredericton where women could receive an out of hospital abortion procedure. The closure follows a lack of provincial funding for the clinic’s services and has drawn criticism towards Blaine Higgs’s Conservative government from local activists as well as health officials from outside the province.
“I’m terribly concerned that we are now politicizing our poems,” said councillor Dan Keenan after Albert read the poem. He was supported by fellow councillor Stephen Chase, who agreed that the poet laureate readings were not meant to contain political statements.
Speaking to The Brunswickan, Albert was quick to praise other city councillors who stood up for her. After the criticism from Keenan and Chase, councillors John MacDermid and Kate Rogers expressed their support and pointed out the importance of the topic.
Since the reading, there has been an outpouring of support for Albert on social media. Former Halifax poet laureate Rebecca Thomas and Albert’s predecessor Ian Letourneau both spoke on the importance of activism in the role. The poem’s author, Conyer Clayton, has also reached out in support.
“I’m not the only one that’s gotten in trouble. I think it just goes to show that the poet laureate role is really a political one,” said Albert.
This isn’t the first time she has faced obstacles in the position. In June, Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien denied a request to read a poem by Thandiwe McCarthy about the violence experienced by black people at the hands of police. O’Brien later reversed his decision and McCarthy was invited to read his poem, titled “Enough.”
As of Wednesday, September 30, Albert had yet to hear from the Mayor about the backlash from the city council. As long as she is still able to continue her readings before the city council, Albert plans to address political issues.
“I think politics can benefit from emotion and empathy,” said Albert.