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Yellowknife

Yellowknife teen publishes new bilingual poetry book


It’s Friday evening, and Séréna Jenna sits at a table in the Javaroma Coffee House in Yellowknife.

The bilingual 14-year-old has just debuted her first published book, Euphoria/Euphorie, a collection of poems she has written over the years in both English and French. She celebrated its release with a live reading and Q&A with members of the city’s Francophone community in the café.

Jenna who was previously profiled by Cabin Radio for her weekly solo Black Lives Matter protest throughout the summer takes a second to ponder when asked what draws her to the medium.

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“I read a quote once … that said poetry is the truest form of writing because you don’t have to filter your words,” she says.

“I love poetry because I can just say what I think and do what I love without having to block out what I should and shouldn’t say.”

Jenna has now been writing poetry for half of her life in English and French. She wrote her first poem at age eight, though she takes care to clarify that she didn’t begin to take up the craft seriously until she was 10.

Alongside her book – published by local publisher Présence francophones – many of her poems have appeared in the French newspaper L’Aquilon  throughout the years.

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Jenna currently attends Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife.

She says she was approached by Isidore Guy Makaya, editor and founder of Présence francophone, one day at school, when he was substitute teaching.

“He just came towards me at lunch and went like, ‘Hey, do you want to get your book published?’” Jenna says.

Remembering how she and her mom celebrated the news, Jenna laughs.

“I think we just ate a bag of chips and watched a movie and jumped around a bit,” she says. “Then a year later, I’m here.”

Jenna knows no bounds when exploring the world through a poetic lens.

Whether she writes in French or English depends on her mood or whatever ideas she is trying to convey, she says, and many of her poems are something of an exorcism of whatever she might be feeling as she writes.

Euphoria/Euphorie, Séréna Jenna’s new poetry book, was published by Présence francophone. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

For instance, Jenna wrote her poem “Be Good, My Dear” about sexism in modern society after an experience she had being catcalled in the street.  

There isn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason for where the poet gets her inspiration; her only criteria is that it’s authentic and comes from the heart.

“Sometimes, I just get bursts of inspiration out of nowhere, and I have to write,” she says.

“Once I was … I think it was at the gym or something … with my mom and I just thought of something, and I was like, ‘I have to go.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, do you need to use the bathroom?’ and I was like, ‘No, poem.’”

Jenna adds: “True poems are the ones you have to write, not the ones you want to or need to for a school project or something.”

When asked where poetry fits into her future, Jenna said it will always be a part of her life and how she goes about interpreting the world around her – but at this point in time, she doesn’t necessarily consider it to be the end goal.

Right now, she’s vacillating between a career as an actress or a physicist.

“I think theater, it’s the creativity and the independence,” she says, explaining how she’s drawn to two drastically different professions. “I can be a completely different person. I can do what I want, dress different.

“And the physics, I’ve always been good at math and science. And if I become a physicist, I can just find stuff that nobody else has ever found before, and then intrigues me.”

Jenna answers audience questions at Friday’s poetry reading. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

In the meantime, Jenna says she’s currently working on a novel, and having a published book under belt will help her stand out when she goes to get this next project published.

“This is really kind of just something to push me up from other people that want to write,” she says. “Maybe it’s an advantage, let’s say, for future books I want to write.”

Euphoria/Euphorie by Séréna Jenna is now available for purchase at the Yellowknife Book Cellar.

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