Laurie D. Graham may be a true Ontarian now, but her western roots are on display in her acclaimed new collection of poetry, Settler Education (McClelland & Stewart). With praise from none less than Margaret Atwood (who called the collection "a tone-perfect elegiac meditation"), Settler Education is a powerful, vivid collection exploring the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake, Alberta.
We're excited to welcome Laurie to the site today as part of our series celebrating The Word on the Street. She will be reading in the Vibrant Voices of Ontario tent at the festival, as part of a powerhouse line up highlighting the incredible wealth of literary talent in our province.
We speak to Laurie today about the festival, Settler Education, and more, and she tells us about her days at early editions of The Word on the Street, what she learned about giving public readings during her time at UVic, and her summer thirst for lakes and rivers.
Don't forget to mark September 25, 2016 on your calendars to catch Laurie and dozens of other fantastic authors at The Word On The Street.
Tell us about what you’ll be reading in the Vibrant Voices tent.
Laurie D. Graham:
I’ll be reading poems from Settler Education, which came out this past spring.
Have you attended The Word on the Street in the past? If so, tell us about a favourite memory. If not, what are you most looking forward to?
I’ve been to The Word on the Street many times, as a reader and writer and someone who helps publish Brick magazine. I first got to know the festival when it was on Queen Street between University and Spadina. Evan Solomon was doing the books show on the CBC then and I remember him being swarmed as he walked down the street. I lived down the road in a cheap (!) apartment at Queen and Palmerston and I’d spend a lot of time at Tequila Bookworm being glad that the staff rarely came over to ask what I wanted, which meant I could write for a while and not have to buy anything. I was a kid in a toy store at the Word on the Street. I’d take my meagre rations over there and walk away with such a pile of goodies, which is a tradition that totally continues. And I felt a bit like this was my place, if that makes sense. The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is my place, and the Word on the Street is my place too.
The Vibrant Voices tent celebrates Ontario authored and published books. Tell us about a favourite Ontario author or book you've read.
Let me here name all the poets laureate of Toronto: Dennis Lee, Pier Giorgio di Cicco, Dionne Brand, George Elliott Clarke, Anne Michaels. These are among my favourite poets and they’ve made some of my favourite poems. I also really enjoyed André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs; I was propelled right through that book. Maybe Toronto should also have a novelist laureate position.
What's the best advice you've ever received or the best advice you would offer about public readings?
I learned how to read in front of people while I was studying writing at the University of Victoria. I’d sign up for the open mic at Planet Earth Poetry when I had something I thought worth reciting out loud. And the instructors at UVic were either deeply suspicious of readings, or they thought very deliberately about them, or they were just extremely talented and captivating readers. So I learned from them to be aware of what I was doing when I read, to hold readings at arm’s length a bit, and to pay attention to who I think does it really well and what they’re doing when they read.
Do you have a favourite spot in Ontario?
I’ve been thirsty for lakes all summer. Rivers, too. Water bodies, generally. I just moved to Kitchener, through which the Grand River flows. It’s a beautiful river, and you can get right up close to it. I just learned it’s called Willow River — O:se Kenhionhata:tie — by the Mohawk, and it was used to dictate the borders of the Haldimand Treaty, which parcelled off land to the Haudenosaunee in 1784. It’s also got the highest concentrations of artificial sweeteners in the world. It’s my new favourite Ontario water body. I aim to study it more.
What can you tell us about your next project?
It’s more poetry. So far it involves standing in front of dozed lots, and it involves plants and animals, and I don’t know much more than that as yet. Still feeling my way around.
Laurie D. Graham's first book of poetry, Rove, was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. Poems from her second collection, Settler Education, were shortlisted for the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize and won The Puritan’s Thomas Morton Memorial Prize for Poetry. Graham holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and an MFA from the University of Guelph. She is an editor of Brick, A Literary Journal, as well as an instructor at Fanshawe College. She grew up in Sherwood Park, Alberta, and now lives in London, Ontario.
Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.
For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.