History tends to be a biased cut-and-dry listing of facts. So it takes new interpretations to vault new perspectives upon us and open our minds to events that may direct still involve us today. Poet Laurie D. Graham has done that with Settler Education. Her reflections on the Frog Lake “massacre” and the Northwest Resistance has given some pause to reflect what our history texts stated. Graham recently answered a few questions on her latest work.
First, off, can you give a bit of an outline of Settler Education.
Settler Education travels west to the site of what’s called the Frog Lake “massacre” and, more generally, the Northwest Resistance. It stays in those places, in what’s now east-central Alberta and central Saskatchewan, immersing itself in what happened there 130 years ago and what remains of those events now. It then moves into the cities—to Edmonton, to Regina, to Toronto—keeping itself trained on the Resistance in these present-day places. Settler Education tries to say something about the violence and injustice that brought about the Resistance and the deaths at Frog Lake, and to see better the ways it continues today.
Did you do much research for the book, was it a product of ‘pure imagination, or a combination of the two?’ How long did it take you to write it?
I did a large amount of research for Settler Education. As the title implies, it involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to, so I read an awful lot, I dug into archives, I went to look at sites, I got to know places, I listened to stories.
My first ideas about the book came before I finished writing my first book, Rove, the first poems were written around 2009, things started clicking into place around 2012, and (McClelland and Stewart) accepted it at the start of 2015.
You already have a list of dates where you will be reading Settler Education. Are there any events/venues that you are excited to be reading your work? Will you be adding new dates as well?
I’ve got two readings scheduled in London and one in Edmonton, and I just recently did a couple of readings in Toronto, one of which was M&S’s poetry launch, a very well-attended event. It was a great night. And I’m looking forward to all my readings: Edmonton because it’s my home and I get to read with Myrna Kostash, and my London launch at the Oxford Book Shop because I’ve wrangled Tom Cull and Jean McKay to read with me, and I admire their work quite a lot.
In a Q&A you answered for me about a year ago, I asked you if your jobs as an educator and an editor helped you with your writing. You wrote:
Being on all sides of the task of bringing a piece of writing to fruition has taught me a lot, but it’s hard to tell if teaching and editing influence my writing in any overt way. I know it has improved my eye. I’m more rigorous, more ruthless, more self-aware.
On the other hand, editing and teaching can keep me from writing, which ends up doing the opposite of helping… I teach out of necessity and I help put together Brick out of love, but I have to make sure these things keep to their “compartments” or else there’ll be no writing, and it’s writing that gave me these two gigs in the first place.
Now, one year later and another book published, do you still feel that way?
Yeah, definitely. I’m still trying to make enough time for all three of these gigs and to keep them all to their corners, and I’m still learning a lot from the teaching and the editing. Lately the pattern of my years goes that I work like mad through the fall and a bit less through the winter so I can have the summers more to myself and to writing. It’s been a good pattern, overall. Not perfect, of course, but utterly workable.
One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking a published writer’s views on social media. Are you still keen on using Facebook and Twitter?
I use them a fair bit, and they are really good for following issues you’re interested in and keeping abreast of or letting people know about readings or events or good things to look at or read. But I remain more of a listener than a contributor on those platforms (as in life, mostly), and there’s a point when I have to turn these things off and get to work already.
Have there been any new writers or any new books that you have read in the past year that have earned your praise?
I just read Tim Lilburn’s new book, The Names, and it is wonderful. He has a new voice in these poems, or at least it feels new to me. Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell have both been nominated to the Griffin Prize this year, and I think both books are highly deserving of this recognition. I recently read a book called Stolen Life, written by Yvonne Johnson, a descendant of the Plains Cree chief mistahimaskwa / Big Bear (along with Rudy Wiebe). This book was new to me, and it’s wonderful and wrenching. I’m reading Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope right now, and, as someone who enjoys putzing around in the garden, I am having a great time with that one.
Are you working on or planning any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share?
I’ve got some new poems in the hopper, but I don’t know much about them yet. They’re multiple in their intentions and even in their voices. I don’t know how things will turn out, but right now they are about clearcutting, about suburban sprawl, about animals, about sitting beside water, about sitting beside a fire. Pretty vague, I know, but that’s how it begins for me: turn off the editor in my head and just proceed towards that unnameable thing.