"Hey, I lived there!"
So we had our New Brunswick Book Awards back in May, and the winner of the poetry prize was Jenna Lyn Albert for her collection Bec & Call. I knew that at some point I would have to read it. She's Fredericton's poet laureate, and she also hosted an open mic event at The Abbey restaurant in downtown Fredericton for the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference. I didn't need to have my arm stretched to read her book, but it definitely seems like the right thing to do considering, well, everything about my job.
I, uh, I gotta say though, I wasn't prepared for this book. It's quite a lot. It's candid, and funny at times, shocking at others, and direct. I really enjoyed it. But that wasn't what struck me the hardest about it. No, it was that I lived and grew up in one of the settings she uses.
Her poem "Unnamed" (pp. 84-85) takes place on Albert Street and Connaught Street in Fredericton. I moved into a house on Albert Street with my family when I was six years old. We moved out when I was 16. I'm not gonna go into full detail about my childhood there but it was a welcoming neighborhood. Our next door neighbours would look after kids after school while their parents were at work, and they let us play in their backyard whenever we wanted. Their daughters used to babysit my me and my brothers. Our own backyard bordered a right-of-way with a lot of trees, and connected us with another closeby neighborhood, including a particular childhood friend. I had a paper route there, and I took it over from a kid who lived a few doors down from mine, and whose family was good friends with my mine. Actually a lot of people around there knew my mom and dad. And if all this weren't enough of a weird connection to Albert's poem, I was a French Immersion student at Connaught Street Elementary School. I also went to Albert Street Middle School, which is now a YMCA.
Why am I telling you this? Because I'm actually working on a critical analysis of that poem. I don't know if it'll go up - I might be the managing editor but I'm not all-powerful - but in case it does, I needed to clear the air a bit. The poem uses that location to do certain things, and I'm gonna talk about those things on that level. They don't paint the street in a good light, but there's a reason for it. Or rather, it paints a kind of sinister idealness for a highly Anglicized town like Fredericton and the effect that has on Francophones. I really, really love this poem, especially the framing device it uses. And I'm absolutely going to discuss these things more fully in the analysis. But I also loved living on Albert Street, and I couldn't just talk about it in the poem's terms.
- Jamie Kitts
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