According to project partners Calgary Arts Development and the City of Calgary, the role of a Poet Laureate is to serve as “an artistic ambassador for Calgary” and “produce literary work that reflects our city and its citizens.” Like many things affected by the pandemic, that has looked a bit different lately.
That’s partly why 2020-2022 Poet Laureate Natalie Meisner decided on the audio-based legacy project This Might Help. Meisner is a multidisciplinary writer, with accomplishments in novels, poetry, playwrighting and more. She is also a professor at Mount Royal University.
“I conceived of this project when I learned that I had been nominated [by a former student for the role of Poet Laureate] and also shortlisted. This was in the very early days of the lockdown,” says Meisner. “As an artist and a prof, I am always looking for ways to help people hack their own creativity. As a spoken word poet and theatre artist, a lot of my practice really depends upon the live presence of other humans. It hit me just how tough the lockdown was going to be on everyone… the social isolation, the demotivating factor of being home alone, and so designed a project that ‘might help.'”
This Might Help was created in phases with the help of editorial intern Audrey Jamieson. First came writing prompts and a topic-based, poem-request system, then whittling down the submissions and, finally, the publication of the audio poems at ThisMightHelp.ca. “The ‘might’ is important here,” says Meisner. “No one is pretending that poetry solves all the practical problems, but it can give us strength to connect, keep battling, to carry on. Also, no one poem ‘helps’ everyone. This is why we wanted to have as diverse a selection as possible.”
There are a total of 35 poems. Poets include Meisner, all of Calgary’s Poet Laureate alumni and poets with a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds — the youngest contributor is just 10 years old. This Might Help is described as “a listenable repository of poems that might ease what ails you,” visually represented by the image of a jukebox.
That young people were considered and represented was important to Meisner and Jamieson. “[We] wanted to show how much young talent there is coming up in the Calgary arts community. The launch date was set for the last week of university classes so students could have something to look forward to in these weeks when all our time is dedicated to working on final projects and studying for final exams,” says Jamieson. One poem that resonated with her was Riley Ohler’s Le Mythe de Employment, a comedic piece about the foibles of job hunting. “[It] made me feel less like I was drowning in this period we call ‘the next phase of life’ after university — or at least I was less alone in the drowning.”
The This Might Help project is available now. You can stream or download each selected poem. Keep up with Natalie Meisner — who is up for some awards and recently collaborated with Alberta Theatre Projects — at nataliemeisner.com.