Mini-interview: Michael Fraser

Michael Fraser is published in various national and international journals and anthologies. He is published in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and 2018. He has won numerous awards, including Freefall Magazine’s 2014 and 2015 poetry contests, the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, and the 2018 Gwendolyn Macewen Poetry Competition. The Day-Breakers is his third poetry collection.

Book: The Day Breakers by Michael Fraser (Biblioasis, April, 2022). 

Book description: Similar to The Greet Yourself Arriving (Tightrope, 2016) Fraser hops back in time into Black vision of past decades, in this case, to the U.S. civil war finding distinct cadences and individual perspectives.


Soldier’s Camp

In the peek space
between tent flaps,
the dust dawn light shakes
snowdrop flowers.

I draw a long face toting
stones for the rock fence,
see them hunched down
in the alder crest,
cannon men scarfing
the scrub cattle with
stone-sharpened cutters
the shorthorns’ bloody innards
slathering buckshot soil.

The sky smoke is
hunger’s body language
breathing, the flames
gather in more space.
We all watch hawk-eyed,
waiting for the meat
to be tuned up
and fire-played.

The Day Breakers by Michael Fraser


“This magnificent concord of jawing and chat, of trill and clacking teeth, be as timely necessary as Liberation itself always be. Kudos to that MF, whose initials mark no euphemism, but identify the honest, ingenious bard.”—George Elliott Clarke, author of Execution Poems

“What a tremendous book of poems Michael Fraser has written with The Day-Breakers. His voice fills the eyes, so the meaning of the inventive words and narrative is sung deeper through his language. There is a tactile narrative force to the poems—history becomes the present in the immediacy of the lines. So many journeys: in language, in sorrow, in brutality, in beauty. Fraser’s The Day-Breakers is a unique lyric wonder.”—Alice Burdick, author of Deportment

“Michael Fraser’s The Day-Breakers is magnificent. Vigorous in language, sweeping in history, poignant and searing in detail, these poems about the African Canadian volunteers for the Union Army in the American Civil War change the contours of North American letters. There are poems that record history, but then there are poems like Fraser’s that transform historical visions. The startling vocabulary, the bold hammering of stresses, the tenderly elastic use of the pronoun I as the poet’s voice catapults into and seeks to embody the women and men—soldiers and witnesses, warriors in Lincoln’s army all—is a stirring, thrilling reader’s experience. The Day-Breakers is a distinguished book. And it will distinguish Canadian poetry.”—Molly Peacock, author of The Analyst: Poems

PP: Your latest has some historical fiction, like your last book, To Greet Yourself Arriving. Do you see it as a furthering or a new project?

MF: To Greet Yourself Arriving is an homage to various diasporic historical figures and personal heroes of African descent from the Americas. There’s clearly a historical nexus regarding the two collections since both honour people of African descent, however, The Day-Breakers’ historical figures are largely unknown. For example, Dr. Anderson Abbott, the first licensed Afro-Canadian doctor is included in To Greet Yourself Arriving, but not in The Day-Breakers partly because he’s a famous figure. He’s featured in Black History month posters, public service announcements, historical dramas, etc. He’s alluded to whenever I reference “sawbones” (Civil War slang for doctors and surgeons which originated with Charles Dickens). Most of the actual people named in The Day-Breakers are essentially unknown. I discovered these individuals in My Brother’s Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War by Bryan Prince and African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War by Richard M. Reid.

I think The Day-Breakers is both a furthering and a new project. This statement sounds contradictory, but it’s not. The Day-Breakers furthers my examination and sharing of African Canadian narratives, however, stylistically, it is a completely unique endeavour due to the lexicon employed. Language and Civil War slang is highly prominent in this collection. I essentially created my own dictionary to facilitate writing these poems. I had to amass a treasure trove of words and terminology which was ridiculously time-consuming. Yet, it was intensely pleasurable. I still remember when I learned the term “bumbershoot” for umbrella. I literally jumped out of my chair! The problem was organizing all these words into a useful format. Thus, I created my own dictionary which allowed me to utilize the terms as I penned the poems. The Day-Breakers is a stylistic departure from my previous work.

PP: What was or will your favourite moment(s) in making this book?

MF: My absolute favourite moment was winning the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize for the poem African Canadian in Union Blue. It was my fourth Civil War poem and I was pleasantly surprised since Grand Junction won Freefall’s 2014 Poetry Contest and The Union Dead placed third in Freefall’s 2015 Poetry Contest. I loved uncovering the Civil War era slang and terminology. The glee I felt when I discovered words such as the aforementioned “bumbershoot” is indescribable. Here are a few others: “boneyard” for cemetery, “coffin nail” for cigarettes, “play-pretty” for toy, “clackers” for teeth, “idea-pot” for head, “seed-folk” for ancestors, “tumbleset” for somersault, etc. There were hundreds of them! It was interesting to learn many terms are present-day regionalisms throughout the United States but especially in The South, Appalachia, and the mid- Atlantic states. Thankfully, I enjoyed immersing myself in all these words because it was a lengthy and insanely time-consuming endeavour! The process of creating my own dictionary was also interesting because it is one thing to collect and stockpile these words, but another to effectively access the appropriate words and utilize them in poems. This is when I arranged and categorized the words into a dictionary. The writing accelerated after this lengthy process.