Poetry collection rhythmically retells local, celebrity stories

Local poet Maurice Mierau signs copies of his fifth book, Autobiographical Fictions on Oct. 29 at McNally Robinson. THE PROJECTOR/ Chelsea Mazur

Local poet Maurice Mierau signs copies of his fifth book, Autobiographical Fictions on
Oct. 29 at McNally Robinson. THE PROJECTOR/ Chelsea Mazur

Famous people can be under the microscope at all times, especially when they do something wrong. And when they do, Winnipeg poet Maurice Mierau picks up his pen.

“Celebrities are like gods in a secular age,” said Mierau. “Most of us don’t attend formal worship services, but we enjoy watching the fall and even death of the gods.”

Maurice Mierau explores the world of pop culture and celebrity obsession in his latest book, Autobiographical Fictions. He released it at McNally Robinson on Oct. 29.

Autobiographical Fictions is a series of poems documenting the lives of celebrities, historical figures and ordinary people alike. If you’re not much for long reads, Mierau said this will help you out.

“You can avoid long biographies by reading this book,” he said with a laugh.

According to Mireau, ordinary people are just as worthy of attention as any of the celebrities appearing in the book. One poem called “A Convenience Store in the North End” is about Winnipegger Geraldine Beardy. She died in 2009 after allegedly being beat up by a storeowner for taking a can of lunchmeat. Mierau said the more he learned about someone, the harder it was to write poems like the ones in Autobiographical Fictions.

“The trick is to find just one or two illuminating moments in someone’s life that reveal their character or something about their world,” said Mierau.

Take Prisoner 103, for example. He was the subject of Mierau’s poem “Basketball at Stony Mountain Pen.”

Prisoner 103 was Cree Chief Big Bear who served two years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary in the late 1800s. Big Bear was convicted of treason for his alleged involvement in the Frog Lake Massacre, although much of the evidence showed he was wrongfully imprisoned.

So while he had all this history, Mierau decided to focus on a prison pastime.

“The ending of the poem recounts what it was like to play senior men’s basketball at Stony Mountain,” said Mierau. “Where the home team never leaves.”

Autobiographical Fictions piqued the interest of Allison Zelinsky, a business information technology student at Red River College who is not into poetry.

“If I could get all the information I needed, I definitely would read it.”

Mierau’s said his favourite poem in the book is called “The Impassion Ex-Formalist Pulitzer Prize-Winning Womanizing Alcoholic Jumps Off a Bridge.” The title reads like a tabloid headline and captures the essence of the book, he said. The poem is about John Berryman, an American Poet who jumped to his death in 1972. “What fascinates me about him is his obsession with craft and with making poems, all while he struggled with terrible mental health issues,” said Mierau.