Profile: Michael Prior

Michael Prior is a poet, editor, and Assistant Professor at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He grew up in Vancouver, where he undertook a B.A. at the University of British Columbia, before completing graduate work in English Literature at the University of Toronto and in Poetry at Cornell University. The poems in Michael’s first book, Model Disciple (Signal Editions, 2016), explore his mixed-race identity and the lasting impact of the Japanese-Canadian Internment upon his maternal grandparents, who were among those forcibly dispossessed and displaced during World War II. His most recent book, Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart, 2020), delved deeper into the Internment’s painful legacy while reckoning with the recent loss of his grandmother and “what it means to elegize living memory as the last survivors of the camps pass away.”

Michael first heard about the Past Wrongs, Future Choices initiative through the Landscapes of Injustice project and was encouraged to apply for the spring residency program by PWFC team member Greg Robinson. In his application to participate, Michael explained that he intended to use his time at the residency to continue work on his third collection of poems. The manuscript-in-progress, tentatively titled Wartime Measures, will extend the questions Michael explored in his previous two books while considering the work of Japanese-American and -Canadian artists “as vessels for cultural memory.” Many of the poems he has written so far employ inherited verse forms – like the sonnet and blank verse – to “reflect the psychological and physical constraints of the camps.” Michael is also interested in using form to explore the ramifications of those constraints, and how they have shaped “various ideologies and aspects of Japanese-Canadian culture” – including those particular to his own family – generations beyond the Nikkei who experienced the Internment firsthand.

Michael was one of seven international artists and scholars selected to take part in the May 2023 residency program. For the duration of the three-week residency, Michael and the other participants lived and worked alongside each other in Victoria, an arrangement that encouraged a constant and generous exchange of ideas, information, and storytelling. To Michael, one of the most remarkable things about the program was the way it “created an international sense of community.” Learning about the work of his fellow artists and scholars, who arrived at the residency from Australia, Brazil, and elsewhere in Canada, was “eye-opening.” The residents’ various familial histories, Michael said, “showed how individual and yet how communal” each interned family member’s experience was across the range of nationalities present.

One of the aspects of the residency that Michael cited as a particular strength was the environment cultivated by program. “It can happen, I think, that artists enter spaces like these with the intention to work and connect with others and are instead tokenized,” he said. About the Past Wrongs, Future Choices residency program, however, Michael received “a sense that this invitation was genuine and generous and part of something collaborative” – that the program was “here to stay and will continue to be built upon going forward.”

Michael aims to finish his third collection of poems in the near future. His first two books, Model Disciple and Burning Province, are available to purchase from Indigo and Barnes & Noble. Below, you can find a selection of poems from Burning Province that explore aspects of his maternal grandparents’ internment at Tashme, a camp erected in the interior of BC during the War.


 A Hundred and Fifty Pounds

Wakeful Things

Lines Written While Visiting the Valley Where the Camp Was

This article was written by Kiri H. Powell, from an interview with Michael Prior.