Michael Fraser was born in Grenada, arrived in Toronto at age 5, moved to Edmonton, Alberta at age 7, then returned to Toronto at age 14. While poetry didn’t click with him in middle school, by the time Michael started grade 9 he began to feel the power of images, feelings, and life lessons revealing themselves in verse. He started to write poetry himself in high school, like so many others, when he first fell in love.
Michael is now a graduate of York University and the University of Toronto. He’s been published in various anthologies and journals including: Paris Atlantic, Arc, and The Caribbean Writer. His manuscript, The Serenity of Stone, won the 2007 Canadian Aid Literary Award Contest and was published by Bookland Press in 2008. He won Arc’s 2012 Reader’s Choice Poem of the Year as well as Freefall’s 2014 and 2015 Poetry Contests and the 2016 CBC Poetry Contest. He recently won the 2018 Gwendolyn Macewen Poetry Competition and is published in The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and 2018. His latest book is To Greet Yourself Arriving (Tightrope Books, 2016).
I definitely read poetry in high school, however, my love of poetry evolved from an intense fascination with vividly brilliant song lyrics. My father was a singer, thus, our home puIsed with music. I adored talented lyricists such as: Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Nicks, Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Stephen Sondheim, June Carter, Gil Scott Heron, Vinicius de Moraes, Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell, John Lee Hooker, and Paul Simon. However, Morrissey from the Smiths was my lyrical hero and my fave poet when I was an overly-sensitive adolescent. He was a divine literary figure who lead to Oscar Wilde, then to the Romantic poets, to Emily Dickinson, and eventually to the American Confessional poets who greatly influenced me. Mental illness is quite severe in my family and reading Confessional poets' accounts certainly freed me to explore and disclose the highly personal as a form of therapy. Of course, racial issues and encounters fueled depression, anxiety, and mental illness in both Native American and African American lives. Studies clearly indicate we sleep on average 30 minutes less per night than the wider Euro-American population due to all the daily microagressions and stress we endure. I embraced African Americans Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Derek Walcott, and the brilliant Yusef Komunyakaa. There were also Canadians Gwendolyn Macewen and Leonard Cohen. I eventually devoured Neruda, Sharon Olds, Denise Levertov, and many others. I was insatiable. Every month, I was enamoured with a new amazing poet!...lol It's difficult to select one poem from my high school years as my favourite. However, I can definitley select "This Charming Man" by The Smiths as my favourite lyric of the time. It's a highly unusual song with an upbeat hi-life-like African style guitar and Morrissey's soaring falsetto belting out the lines "punctured bicycle / on a hillside desolate / will nature make a man of me yet? / when in this charming car / this charming man / Why pamper life's complexity / when the leather runs smooth / on the passenger's seat? / I would go out tonight / but I haven't got a stitch to wear / This man said "it's gruesome / that someone so handsome should care" / Ah! A jumped-up pantry boy / who never knew his place / He said "return the ring" / he knows so much about these things / he knows so much about this things /.... I had never heard anything like that previously! Who writes like that? It was other-worldly. It was as if Shakespeare walked out his grave and penned lyrics in the early 1980's!
I initially started writing poetry in grade 9, however, I really hit my stride by grade 11. My English teacher, Heather Elliott, realized she couldn't assist me with editing or perfecting my poems as I had grown past her abilities. Her words, not mine. She recommended I join a "writer's workshop" at the City of York Public Library hosted by their new Writer in Residence, James Deahl. I attended the workshop class with boastful unearned confidence which was quickly, and rightfully, dismantled by the end of a two-hour workshop session with four or five other adults, who were also published writers like James Deahl. I walked home with my tail between my legs. It took every ounce of courage to return the following week. I became a poet when I returned to James Deahl's second poetry workshop and realized my poems were terrible and I had a lot to learn!!...lol You must surround yourself with superior talent and knowledge. Then you read, observe, listen, and push yourself beyond your comfort zones.
A poet's "job" or purpose is to share their vision of the world. To relate their way of seeing, and experiencing the world, and life, through their senses.
My poem, The Coloured Hockey League, chronicles the first organized hockey league in Canada. The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes predates the NHL and was an actual hockey league created by African Canadians in the Maritimes. It's also noted their creative style of play lead to innovations like the "slap shot"!
Detonation by Ocean Vuong