THE RESTLESS POET: FUHR EXAMINES NOMADIC LIFE
Former ‘military brat’ asks: Is home a place or simply where you are?
In Laurie Anne Fuhr’s poem, Afaceisapicturemoreoften Than a Face, she writes, “Never knew where I was until I left a place.” In Saskatchewan, she writes, “Every time I say goodbye, it rains, I never judge how much or little, couldn’t say how you fell.”
Both lines point to the heart of Night Flying (Frontenac House Poetry, 108 Pages, $19.95), the Calgary poet’s debut collection. Loss, displacement and loneliness echo throughout the book, a reflection of the restlessness imposed on Fuhr through most of her early life as a “military brat” whose family was stationed in various communities.
“I always kept coming back to trying to figure out if home was a place or home was just where you are,” says Fuhr, who will hold a book launch on Jan. 24 at Owl’s Nest Books. “Maybe the sky is your roof and the grass is your floor, wherever you are.”
The majority of the poems in Night Flying were written between the years 1998 and 2004. Granted, Fuhr returned to them with revisions and the wisdom of hindsight when going through the editing process for the book with Calgary’s former poetlaureatemichelinemaylor at Frontenac House Poetry. She also revisited them at the Banff Centre’s Writing Studio in 2016 with poet Karen Solie, a program Fuhr was accepted into after her manuscript was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.
But while a collection of poetry written through the lens of a “military brat” may seem a deliberate and singular angle for a book, Fuhr admits the early drafts tumbled out of her without much thought to how they might eventually make a cohesive whole.
“Each poem is very individual and as it happened in my life,” she says. “I had a hard time deciding how to link things together thematically. I kept thinking ‘Should this be a Prairie book? What should the theme be?’ Finally I realized that the only thing that really holds it together is the military part.”
Unbeknownst to Fuhr at the time, there is a whole community of military-brat writers. Granted, most of them deal in memoirs or narrative prose. But it was a bit of an epiphany for the poet to discover this subculture — which congregates on various Facebook pages — even existed. She dedicates Night Flying to “military brats everywhere” and also dutifully notes all the places where her family was stationed from 1981 to 2004, a handy reference for her fellow brats who tend to be curious about such things when they compare notes.
Between those years, Fuhr and her older brother were shuffled from Cold Lake, Alberta, to Baden-soellingen in Germany, back to Cold Lake, to Ottawa, then Winnipeg and finally Cold Lake again. Her father Hal served in the Canadian Air Force, eventually retiring as chief of the 441 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Cold Lake.
Many of the poems directly address the anxiety and loneliness of life as an air force brat, such as Applicable Skills of the Military Brat #1 and #2, F-18 Cycle, and Leaving Germany. But even when the work enters into the more conventional terrain of coming-of-age or young love, Fuhr’s early nomadic life still casts a shadow.
“You end up moving person to person the way you had once moved place to place, as though this growing up as a brat kind of shapes your mentality where you want things to last but are unable to make things last for some reason, ” Fuhr says. “And it is painful, because as humans we want to have stability and have steady love and know where our next meal is coming from and this kind of thing.”
Still, while this all may sound relentlessly grim, Fuhr’s command of language and occasional flights into the surreal often give Night Flying a more lighthearted tone than the subject matter would suggest.
“I think the surreal bent of my work allows me to put a little bit of joy and playfulness into the pain by making crazy things happen unexpectedly in an otherwise linear narrative,” she says. “I’m hoping this book isn’t a downer. I think it’s got some of my sense of fun in it, too.”
Cold Lake Karaoke Bar, ‘Paralyzers’ and Starz Niteclub, for instance, offer a funny look at some of the unhinged nightlife in Cold Lake.
“There’s some interesting bars in Cold Lake,” Fuhr says with a laugh. “For the happy hour special on ladies’ night, if you were a woman you could get drinks for 25 cents at one point. That’s just ridiculous.”
What I Saw In Him: An Epilogue is the final poem in the book and one of only two completely new works she penned for Night Flying. It chronicles the relationship that brought her to Calgary in 2004. Since arriving, Fuhr has immersed herself in both the poetry and musical communities. She was managing editor of the experimental literary magazine filling Station, currently teaches poetry at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society and hosts Single Onion Open Mic. She plays bass in the Eastern European folk/postpunk band Total Gadjos and, in 2017, released her debut solo EP, Love in the Digital Age, under the name birdheat.
“I’ve been in Calgary longer than I’ve been anywhere else,” she says. “Even though I feel that urge for going all the time — every few years it feels like it should be time to move to a new city, it’s ingrained — I don’t think I will because I’m so grateful to have closer and deeper friendships that can only come with time.”
AT A GLANCE Laurie Anne Fuhr will join poets Steven Ross Smith, Liz Howard and Richard Harrison and musician Craig Galambos for Verses on Jan. 24 at Owl’s Nest Books at 7 p.m.
Poet Laurie Anne Fuhr’s book delves into the displacement, loneliness and romance of a life in many places. She now calls Calgary home.