Lara has been featured at TEDx and at the Hot Docs International Documentary Challenge, where ‘Crowd the Schoolhouse,’ a documentary set to her poetry (and narrated by Lara), won for Best Writing and Best Use of Genre. After the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, her poem, ‘The New School,’ was one of Rattle, a popular American poetry journal’s, most read and shared poems.
As a spoken word poet, Lara has performed at literary festivals and venues across North America, in Singapore, and in Ireland. As Department Head of English at a public high school, Lara founded Be Heard: Festival of Student Voices, which paired student writers with internationally renowned spoken word artists. She is also a founding member of Toronto Poetry Project, which produces Toronto Poetry Slam, BAM Youth Slam and writing workshops.
Lara is the author of two collections of poetry, Canadian bestseller The Cartographer’s Skin (Piquant Press) and Tourist (Tightrope Books). In both 2014 and 2015 she was named Toronto’s Best Poet by NOW Magazine. She is currently working as an arts consultant for several projects, notably Jennifer Long‘s Caesura, which was included in Portraits in COVID Time: Documenting a Nation in Change, at Harbourfront Centre, and selected for 2020-2021 Research and Creation support from the Canada Council for the Arts.
I remember finding Derek Walcott's 'Love After Love' in the pages of my high school English textbook, and being transfixed. It was the first time a piece of poetry had connected with the sense of longing I carried inside of myself. I immediately felt the poem was speaking to me, coaching me forward into the next, and next, and next versions of my life. It was the first time I really understood the power of less on the page, and the way that carefully chosen words could build into a sense of freedom.
In the words of Pablo Neruda, poetry came to find me. Specifically, while I was hiking in the forest near my Whistler home. A dear friend of mine had passed the previous season, and I was spending more and more time on the hiking trails as a way to make peace with the loss. One day, out of nowhere, I sat down on a tree stump and spontaneously wrote three poems. As I share in my TEDx talk, ‘Sharing Passion Through Poetry,’ the quality of the poems may have been questionable, but I was immediately and wholeheartedly transfixed by the process; I couldn't believe the poems had come from me, and was entranced at the thought that they had been waiting, fully formed to emerge from my brain and heart and body. It's worth noting I had always been a creative person, painting, sculpting, reading, and photography were huge pastimes of mine. But this, this felt different, and it transformed me.
I think we are all here to make sense of the world. I believe the poet's job is to offer insight that has been earned, and to foster growth for all involved.
The writing of poetry has offered me a better way to live in the world. Through the challenges of articulation, I have become more patient and contemplative with myself and others. I find myself listening much more consciously to the world, and to my experiences, than when I was a younger person. Loving something enough to strive for fluency, and appreciating how long of a road it takes to get there, has probably been the greatest lesson; I am continually amazed at how this relationship grows, falters, renews, strengthens. I am continually amazed that I never walk away. There is something about this process that clears me out, and leaves me open for new experiences. I know that I would not have become the person (or teacher) that I am, without a heart that beats for poetry.
Every once in a while, a poem will arrive fully formed and ready to wade out into the world; ‘The New School’ was like that. I had been driving to work, sipping coffee, and the radio burst with stories of the Parkland School shooting. I couldn’t help but notice how calm the radio announcer seemed and how normalized this kind of news update had become. It brought me back to when the Columbine shooting happened, about twenty years earlier, and how our reaction then (at dinner, watching it unfold on television) was one of total confusion and disbelief. The point of that poem, which I spontaneously spoke into my phone in the parking lot of the high school where I work, was to pause and notice how quickly the world has changed, and to reflect on that. It clearly resonated with people, because it was selected for Poet’s Respond in Rattle (a popular American literary journal), which is a real-time opportunity for poets to write and reflect on weekly events. I’m proud to say it became one of their most listened to poems that year.
I would absolutely memorize ‘Northern Lights’ by Jillian Christmas. When I read her work, and I find this of so many great poems, I feel fed and enlightened and taken on a trip. Her exposure to the north of this land, and her ability to tap into the souls who went before, make me want to experience the world through her eyes and wonder. Her vision is laced with recognition of strength and fortitude; I am always grateful for exposure to that. I would love to speak through her words, and trace the journey.