While we like to think of ourselves as out-of-the-box thinkers in Squamish, we tend to stay in our own lanes when it comes to sports and the arts.
We have our unquestionably dominant sports' scene — mountain biking, climbing, running and the like — and then we have our arts scene — painting, writing, acting — which is creative and tight-knit.
Athleticism and artistic endeavours — at least in our public consciousness — are very distinct and separate.
But that is not always the case, and especially not in the case of Monroe Lawrence.
You likely recognize his name if you have been around Squamish for a while and follow local sports.
He was best known for his mountain biking prowess as a youth winning and placing often, including winning the XC National Mountain Bike Championships in 2009.
As a cross-country runner, he placed well at the BC Championships and won district races.
He graduated from Howe Sound Secondary in 2011.
Lawrence, 27, currently teaches literature, film, and writing at colleges and universities in New England and recently published his first book of poetry, About to Be Young (The Elephants Press). The Squamish Chief caught up with Lawrence for a wide-ranging chat about his road from here to there.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.Q: As we speak, you are living in Providence, Rhode Island. When did you leave Squamish, and what got you to where you are?
A: I lived in Vancouver right after I graduated when I went to UBC. Then I went to Brown University in Providence to do my master's degree in fine art. I didn't intend to stick around, but I am still here.
I teach at a variety of colleges in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I sort of fell into that work. I really love teaching.Q: In Squamish, there's a bit of a divide of sorts between the sports world and the academic/art world. I am curious about how you crossed over or even how, when you were into riding, it came up for you?
A: When Quest University began and the campus was built — I must have been in Grade 8 or 9 — we went on a field trip there.
We sat in on a class and had a seminar-style discussion and walked around the campus. At that time I was obsessed with cycling, I was totally in that world, but I just remember having a feeling of awe. There was something — just the romanticism of the university space. I just really loved it.
And I think as my athletic career went along, in about Grade 11, I started to be in plays in school and doing musical theatre with teachers like Janice Carroll, at Howe Sound. I don't think I knew it at the time, but that was the beginning of opening up. I started having some injuries from cycling and there was something about the open-endedness of the arts and the conversations that they allowed, which started being really attractive to me.Q: Were you into slam poetry here at that time?
A: I remember watching spoken word artist Shane Koyczan at the Vancouver Olympic Opening Event and thinking, "Wow, I could do that." And in Grade 11 and 12, taking courses with Kevin McJannet, Genevieve Taylor and Paul Demers, who were just so inspirational to me and really opened me up to the world of writing and books. I started getting into spoken word poetry and slam poetry and did that for a bit of high school and university. I think transitioning out of that, with slam poetry, the audience is supposed to digest it one sitting and sort of hear it and get something out of it. I then grew more interested in the kind of writing that the reader could sit with and linger on some of the patternings. But slam poetry was incredibly important to sort of foster that love of words and connection — that really intimate relationship with the audience.Q: How did Squamish and cycling impact your writing?
A: People hate athletic analogies in the arts because it is subjective and supposed to be coming from a place that is intrinsic and special, but I think there is a certain diligence and work ethic that [comes from sports ] that does really pay off in arts.
The community really encourages young people to try to reach for the stars — fulfill their potential, whether that be in the arts, politics or athletics. It’s a nurturing place and Squamish is really special in that sense.Q: With cycling and the life you had here, do you miss the nature side of it, where you are?
A: I absolutely miss it. Every time I come back, I think "Wow, maybe I need to make my way back here." I just think it is a journey, especially having lived in the U.S. for the last bunch of years during the Trump presidency, it was a turbulent time, to say the least, and I think I learned a lot and enjoyed the adventure and the challenge of living in this space, which is a lot more fast-paced and competitive — I do like that. But absolutely, I miss the woods and the sort of darkness and lushness of Squamish. Although, when I come back, it has changed and I like that too. I don't lament the changes in Squamish. I try to think of it as a newly vibrant place in a lot of ways.Q: Can you tell us a bit about your book, About to Be Young?
A: One of the things I was interested in with the book in terms of its disjunction and formal experimentation, which is part and parcel with the aesthetic here. But I was really interested in writing from a place of embarrassment and sentimentality. I was young when I wrote it. I am still young but was younger and I wanted to capture some of the recklessness and the embarrassment of that age and not shy away from trying to express things that are a bit mockish or cliché or experimental, but lean into that. Lean into the embarrassing parts of life, that sometimes seem to be the primary features of life.Q: What are you working on next to publish?
A: I have been working on a novel for four years. It is a bit of a poet's novel. It is a memoir. A lot of it is about Squamish and draws on the people and places from memory there. I send myself back to my really early years living in Valleycliffe and explore those spaces. It is a space that I have never really seen written about in a literary way. I tried to capture what, for me, was the magic and sometimes fear and strangeness of growing up in the Pacific Northwest. And I look back on that time from the current perspective of having studied critical race theory and queer theory and having lived through the Trump presidency and looking back on some of the dynamics from those really early years with a fresh and educated perspective. And trying to think about all that and revisit it all in a compassionate and smart way.
Driving up the hill
By Monroe Lawrence
Driving up the hill
in the dream There is a line, of
remonstrance Cars backed down the hill
They gleaming good shame
at my gift, at my folded
& final window, like glancing
Monroe! collect self! Pour language
the totalled car
Oh I love my mom
And dad so much upon waking:
& my best friend Lee upon waking