Charlotte Cranston, Edmonton’s first Youth Poet Laureate, is as effervescent in person as she is onstage. Cranston’s foray into this new position makes Edmonton only the second city in Canada, after Victoria, to have a Youth Poet Laureate program. After taking a sip of her latte, she jokes about the gift she got her mother last Christmas: a poem about trees that she wrote when she was about 4 ½ years old, with all the s’s written backwards.
“I started writing poetry when I was very, very young; before I really knew what it was. I thought it was normal. I thought it was just what people did. Then, I moved to Hinton and found out that it’s not really that normal.”
Cranston had her first poem, “As the Leaves Fall,” published at just eight years old. Her early poetry was influenced by her tree-planting parents, and remembers her childhood as a “very typical Disney princess upbringing,” with black bears raiding their crab-apple tree and deer casually walking in their backyard. Starting out as what is known as a page poet, whose primary concern is how a poem works on the page rather the stage, she would later devote herself to spoken word poetry thanks to the Edmonton summer writing camp, YouthWrite, and eventually helped to bring slam poetry back to Hinton’s arts scene.
“That was when I was still kind of figuring out what it was. My first coming out to the Breath In Poetry [Collective’s open mic night] was about two years ago. It wasn’t even a slam, but I treated like it was the biggest deal in the world,” she laughs.
Cranston’s dedication to the craft paid off, earning her a spot in the 2014 and 2015 Edmonton Slam Team, as well as being inaugurated as Edmonton’s first Youth Poet Laureate in June. Aside from performing for the Edmonton City Council and the City of Edmonton Youth Council, her role also sees her designing projects to get youth more involved in poetry.
She sees accessibility as one of the biggest issues plaguing the Edmonton poetry scene and its poets. She envisions working on alternative avenues for young people to work online who may not have access to venues, as well as safe spaces where young writers can experiment and be accepted in their craft.
“I also want to use this to create as many platforms as I can for any kind of poetry that young people want to engage with. I want to be that [bridge] between people who want [those resources] and people who can provide it.”
Cranston believes that young poetry is undervalued because of the vulnerability associated with youth, but she encourages young poets to believe in their work, and to take to heart that their experiences matter.
“Mary [Pinkoski, Edmonton’s fifth Poet Laureate] would always say to me, “Stand in your poetry.” If you’re authentic to yourself, you’re going to come off as cool.”