BR: I’d like to ask you about your author bio, which, is maybe generally a rude thing to do, after having read an entire book, to just ask one question about what tends to be a pretty standardized form appended to the “real” text, but here I think your bio is more related to the content of the book than usual. In the bio you list, where both your maternal and paternal families emigrated from and where they were based in Canada upon their arrival, along with an estimate of how long your family history in this place extends. I’m wondering if you can first say a bit about the process of uncovering this familial information, second, what function this information serves in your bio and last, how that familial knowledge then shaped the poem — was it, as you say in your excellent newsletter crop samples, “scaffolding” for the “scant words [you] wrote in reply” or are those family histories present in the poem in a more tangible way?
Thanks for this question, Ben! I’ve more or less known since early on where my four pairs of great-grandparents emigrated from in the early 1900s; I recall being a child and reciting the countries to myself and others, reinforcing personal lore given to me by my parents and grandparents. The book I’m working on now involves learning more about the specifics—moving from reciting rote facts to carrying something of the story (and the silences): the circumstances of my forebears’ arrival on this continent, what they left, why they left, and how their arrival forms part of Canada’s colonizing project. It’s tougher than it might seem. There are many erasures, and attempts at erasure.
I can definitely see how saying where I come from and what landed me here—alongside what treaty territory I grew up in and whose land I now reside on—lends context to Fast Commute, helps ground the reader in a poem that’s in near-constant motion: if you know something about who I am and where I come from, you now know helpful things about voice, subject, even use of language or why certain metaphors are chosen or certain images evoked. My bio might also give the reader some understanding about why this book, as well as in my last book, Settler Education, is so pre-occupied with drawing connections between the Prairies and southern Ontario—that this comes from a place of personal in addition to historical examination. I think I understood such disclosure as a responsibility, and a courtesy, and I really like that you saw this refracting through and speaking to and of the poem, that a bio could have a deeper function. And I think you got it right on to point out how Fast Commute is offering scant words in reply; in fact, I think that might be what all my books are trying to do.
Laurie D. Graham grew up in Treaty 6 territory (Sherwood Park, Alberta). She currently lives in Nogojiwanong, in the territory of the Mississauga Anishinaabeg (Peterborough, Ontario), where she is a writer, an editor, and the publisher of Brick magazine. Her first book, Rove, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. Her second book, Settler Education, was a finalist for Ontario’s Trillium Award for Poetry. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize, won the Thomas Morton Poetry Prize, and appeared in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology. Laurie’s maternal family comes from around Derwent, Alberta, by way of Ukraine and Poland, and her paternal family comes from around Semans, Saskatchewan, by way of Northern Ireland and Scotland. She has about a century of history in Canada.
Ben Robinson is a poet, musician and librarian. His most recent publication is Without Form from The Blasted Tree and knife | fork | book. The Book of Benjamin is forthcoming from Palimpsest Press in the fall of 2023. He has only ever lived in Hamilton, Ontario on the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas. You can find him online at benrobinson.work.