By: Julia Magsombol 

Local Initiative Reporter 

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Before Erika Mathieu published her debut poetry book, she decided to incorporate her personal experiences into her poems, hoping that people would find comfort and empathy there. 

“I think everyone, depending on their experiences, might be able to pull something different out of [my book]. I think it is a melancholic collection,” Mathieu told the Pioneer. 

She spent her teenage years in Invermere and graduated from David Thompson Secondary School. She is now an Alberta-based poet and journalist. She works for a newspaper outside Lethbridge but also does creative work. 

“Rhymes from a Jail Cell” is Mathieu’s collection of poems exploring the definition of constraint and interconnected themes of identity, mental illness, and unexpected liberation —human shared experiences and emotions. It also explores the surface of societal expectations and the constraints that come with them —especially with the topic of mental illness.  

Mathieu said the title of the book has something to do with jails, metaphorically. 

“I think of a jail cell as a literal constraint. It’s a barrier . . . something that’s holding someone back. It’s more about the metaphor of something keeping you constrained,” she added. 

“I can sort of appreciate how constraints of mental illness have shaped my voice as a writer and an artist. And through writing this book, I found there’s also liberation in working under a set of rules, which is less limiting than I thought.” 

Mathieu noted the cover is actually a collage. The image of the earth, the woman, and the car were all made up of cuts from magazines, representing the limitations one has. 

“I think that, in many ways, this book represents the idea of working with what you have regarding the constraints with each poem. And I think collage is very similar because you are working with images that are already made, and you have to assemble them in a particular way.” 

Each poem has certain limits and specific writing rules, such as sonnets and haikus. 

“??The constraint refers to the writing itself in terms of breaking free of other kinds of constraints. The idea of living with depression and anxiety and how that can be constraining for people like myself, who live with these conditions chronically. It is about overcoming constraint in writing and having to sort of work within constraints in writing and in life.” 

While writing her book, Mathieu’s inspirations come from personal experiences, especially her vulnerabilities.  

“It is vulnerable to have to share your story with people. But I also think it can build meaningful connections through art and storytelling.” 

She has been planning to write this collection of poetry since 2018. 

Mathieu finished her manuscript by 2021, but because the poems were very personal, she decided to publish them this year instead. 

“I think when you do creative work, that’s really personal. It can be really scary because people will read it. They get to see an insight into how you think and things that you’ve experienced that maybe you wouldn’t share with just any old stranger,” she explained. 

“When you publish something like that, you don’t have control over it anymore. It is really scary. But it’s also really good not to have it, and it feels good to have it released from you.”

Readers’ expectations of the book can be subjective as it can be different for each of them. However, one of Mathieu’s favourite parts of her work was about her sister, in which she talked about love and grief together. In the publication of her book, she had also learned something. 

“I learned that rules and constraints can often lead to unexpected liberation. I have found myself working in modalities I never would have explored without leaning into the idea of rules or giving myself these constraints.”

Mathieu hopes readers will be able to find bits of themselves in this collection. 

“I think that it deals with a lot of difficult issues but I also think reading about other people’s shared experiences can be validating for people to know that they’re not alone.”

Mathieu is currently working on future projects, including her second poetry collection “Origins,” which she hopes to release in 2025.  

Her poetry book is available at Amazon at