Laura Farina is the author of two full-length books of poetry, Some Talk of Being Human (Mansfield Press, 2014) and This Woman Alphabetical (Pedlar Press, 2005), as well as the chapbook Diagnostic Tool (Gaspereau Press, 2017). Her picture book, This is the Path the Wolf Took, is forthcoming from Kids Can Press. Laura is the recipient of the Archibald Lampman Award, and has appeared on the longlist for both the ReLit Award and the CBC Poetry Prize. Her poetry is interested in the surreal details — mysterious telephone calls, all kinds of weather, half-full jars of mayo — that make up our everyday lives. Laura grew up in Ottawa and gradually made her way west. She now lives in Vancouver, where she coordinates arts programs, facilitates writers’ workshops and hangs out with her husband and son.
I was lucky. Poetry made its way into my life in a serious way early. My Grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Campbell, set us the task of creating our own anthologies by asking the adults in our lives to recommend favourite poems. My parents recommended “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” [by T. S. Eliot] and a few poems by Leonard Cohen and after reading them, I was hooked. I read and wrote poetry all through Grades 7 and 8, and then went to Canterbury High School, a high school for the arts in Ottawa where I was in the literary arts program. There, I met other teenagers who also loved poetry. We went to public readings where we got to talk to the poets in our community, and haunted used bookstores looking for excellent finds. In high school, I had two poetry heros — Alden Nowlan, who I loved for his casual, vulnerable voice and the way he was able to fill his seemingly simple poems with complex emotions, and Michael Ondaatje, who I loved for his beautiful metaphors and perfect last lines. I particularly loved Ondaatje’s poem “Signature,” and Nowlan’s poem “Another Poem.”
It’s hard for me to really remember when I first started writing poetry. I have a memory of a diorama I made in... maybe Grade 3... which was accompanied by what I considered to be my best poem at the time, “Under the Sea, A Diver and Me.” I was very proud of the diorama and the poem. Very, very proud. I think I started to think of myself as someone who wrote poems in Grade 7 or 8, when my writing started to get noticed by my peers. Up until that point, I had mostly just been writing weird little observations as a way to make sense of things for myself, so hearing that these observations were striking a chord with others was a pretty mind-boggling. Certainly, by the time I entered high school I would have told you that I was better at writing poems than, say, stories or screenplays. But, isn’t your own inner-critic the worst? Perhaps I didn’t really feel like a was an actual-for-real-poet until my first book was published.
Poets have many jobs: they chronicle the small things; they keep track of the hard-to-pin-down feelings; they collect images; they push language to new places; they change the way we see and interact with the world; they show us that we are not alone in our weirder thoughts; they are sensitive to what is unseen. Poets also have the job of showing up for big-deal moments in non-poets’ lives and writing a line or two to help them on their way.
I think I’d go for “A Breakfast for Barbarians” by Gwendolyn MacEwen. That way I could bust it out over waffles one morning.