The UKing’s Literary Society (KLS) held its second Live Poets! reading of the academic year on November 12, an excellent addition to this year’s fall study break. Since 2019 Live Poets! has highlighted the talents of various Canadian poets through readings that share their work with the King’s community. In order to keep attendees connected and safe amidst COVID-19, Live Poets! has been moved to Zoom. This was the first installment of the series to include memoirs as well as poetry, with Ottawa-based journalist and poet Anita Lahey and Ontarian fiction writer and poet Steven Heighton as special guests. The poets read passages from their recent works to the online audience of nearly 30 people, made up of students and faculty from King’s—including many from King’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction—as well as from the greater King’s community.
The event began with a land acknowledgment recognizing the university’s presence on unceded and unsurrendered Mi’kmaq territory as well as host and KLS president Lucy Boyd’s presence in unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin and Anishinaabe Territory. Anita Lahey began reading from her memoir, The Last Goldfish, a poignant story of her best friend Louisa’s cancer diagnosis. Lahey’s writing is gentle and authentic, perfectly able to transport you to a different time, in this case the 1980s. The passage she chose to read, a post-high school graduation party scene, was particularly striking as lockdowns continue across the world. Lahey’s writing captures the closeness and personal connections we are lacking in these socially distanced times. Boyd commented on the “unapologetic timelessness” of The Last Goldfish in its depictions of girlhood, noting that Lahey has “a gift to relay a story that feels so universal”.
Steven Heighton presented a passage from his memoir, Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos, a collection of gut-wrenching stories from his time as a volunteer on the Greek coast during the Syrian refugee crisis. Before diving into his reading, Heighton noted that he tried to bring a “poet’s eye” to his memoir, and as he read it became evident that he had succeeded in doing so. The passage Heighton chose details a calm moment in the early hours of the night, amidst the chaos of a volunteer transit camp in Lesvos. Heighton’s poetic descriptions of lullabies, songs, and conversations in the middle of a crisis ground his work, allowing for the audience to better process the heartbreaking realities of war.
During the Q&A that followed, an attendee asked Heighton how he is able to write so beautifully about loss. Heighton answered that his goal is “to change people, and to change [himself].”
The Last Goldfish and Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos are both available for purchase from the King’s Co-op Bookstore.