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Canada’s history infuses Murakami’s poetry

U of T staff member shortlisted for Governor General’s Literary Award

Poet Sachiko Murakami is a U of T staff member. (Photo by Johnny Guatto)

Canadian history isn’t a remote construct to Sachiko Murakami; it’s a very real part of her own family history, one she bravely shares in her poetry.

Murakami, the communications officer at U of T’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, is the granddaughter of Japanese immigrants and the daughter of a mother who resides in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, renowned as home to the dozens of women who disappeared from the city in the late 1990s. Robert Picton was tried and found guilty of the murder of some of these women.

“In 2003 when Pickton was arrested, I was interested in the way the story was being consumed by the people around me and in the news,” she said. “I turned the lens away from the missing women and back onto the people holding the camera.”

The resulting poems became a book entitled The Invisibility Exhibit, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award.

“My poems don’t deal directly with the murders; they are, in part, about my relationship with my mother who lives in the Downtown East Side and really fit the profile of the women. It’s my ‘mom’ book.”

This month, Murakami released her second volume of poetry, Rebuild. She calls it her “dad” book. He passed away while she was writing the book, affecting its contents.

“It’s about condos and real estate with Vancouver as the site of inquiry,” she said. “Vancouverites are obsessed with real estate.

“My father is Japanese-Canadian and his family had their property taken away during the [Second World] War. Problems with real estate are a huge part of our family history.”

Vancouver is also a dominant feature of her work to date, because she spent most of her life there, aside from a couple of years in Montreal where she earned a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing at Concordia University.

“I thought I was going to be an academic, but I decided I didn’t want to be one while I was at Concordia,” she said. “Instead, I left there feeling like a writer.”

She moved to Toronto in 2009 and began working at U of T earlier this year. Although she earns her living as a communications officer, her real love is teaching. This winter, she’ll offer a course at the School of Continuing Studies called Engaging the Political Through Poetry.

“My writing tends towards the politicized,” said Murakami, explaining that it’s a way of writing about something “beyond just personal feelings.”

She will be spending much of her time this fall touring with her new poetry collection. Her contract with IBBME is part-time and she is delighted with her colleagues’ willingness to accommodate her poetry reading schedule.

“I’m a poet in disguise when I’m at work,” she said. “It doesn’t come up in conversation.”

Working with scientists and their research has been a rewarding experience for her.

“When I first walked through the Mining Building and looked at posters on the wall they were just gibberish,” she said. “It has been an interesting challenge learning the language of biomedical engineers.

“It’s really nice translating really dense language into something understandable.”