Lakehead Alumni Micah Pawluk, author of A Boy from the Woods, shares his experience of being a young writer, pianist, composer, and photographer
By Olivia Levesque, Arts and Culture Editor
Micah Pawluk sat down with me to share his experience of becoming the creator of his book A Boy from the Woods, an impressive collection of poems exploring the themes of love, loss, discovery, seasonal change, and adventure. Moments after the interview as I began to flip through the pages of A Boy from the Woods, I happened to land on a poem entitled Art;
If you want
to create something
it only needs to be
After talking to Micah for forty minutes, nothing summed up his explanation of his work better than this poem. Everything I had learned about Pawluk in the interview, encompassing all the disciplines of art that he engages in, became solidified. Through his work as a poet, writer, pianist, composer, and photographer, Pawluk delivers nothing but honesty to his audience. He describes all his disciplines as being influential on each other.
At just 23 years old, Pawuk is a sort of a triple threat, having a multidisciplinary background in classical piano, photography, and writing. He grew up in the rural Township of Dorion, just east of Thunder Bay. The idyllic setting of what Pawluk calls home shaped who he was growing up, and who he is today. He describes nature as always being an integral part of his upbringing, with countless memories of hiking and climbing, as well as fishing and hunting along the shores of Lake Superior. Really, there is no better place for a free climber to grow up than in the heart of Ontario’s “Canyon Country”.
Pawluk moved to Thunder Bay to pursue a Honours Bachelor of Music from Lakehead University, with his primary instrument of studying being piano, and his secondary being voice. Though his formal pianistic studies began at the young age of twelve when his parents put him lessons in hopes of settling some childhood angst, Pawluk really began to blossom as a musician at Lakehead: “I’ve learned in the music program that if I want to do something well, I have to work at it. You have to put in a certain amount of time, whether or not you want to immediately. If you don’t, you will never achieve.” This is something he shares as being transferable to all his practices, whether it be music, writing, or photography.
In 2012, he was a first place winner in the Crescendo International Music competition, which afforded him a performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall. In 2015, he won third place in the Senior Category of the International Music in the Summer Festival and Competition in Cremona, Italy. Upon completion of his HBMus at Lakehead, Pawluk began the new Artist Certificate Program in piano performance and pedagogy under the direction of Dr. Evgeny Chugunov. Currently, Pawluk works as an accompanist at Lakehead for other students in the music program, as well as teaching piano occasionally at an elementary school in Nipigon. He feels as though piano is his strongest suit, though he has not been practicing it the longest.
“I’ve been writing for a really long time, since elementary school, but none of it was ever really good,” he laughs. Pawluk explains that reading the work of other writers and poets made him feel a certain way that offered a portal to expression: “In any form of art, and expressing yourself, it doesn’t really matter how others react to it, but they will react. And that’s when really cool things happen”. He describes his writing process as a continuation of what he feels and thinks, and says that there wasn’t anything in particular about writing that drew him, but rather he just used it as the closest medium to begin expressing thought, with the ease of carrying writing materials with him always.
Being a man of many talents, it’s no secret that all of the different kinds of art that Pawluk engages inform each other. “My favourite composers and authors simultaneously inspire what I write,” he shares. When asked about writerly faults such as writer’s block and everyday distractions, Pawluk explains the importance of acting on the undeniable urge to create art from his experiences, whether or not anybody sees it. Pawluk describes this as part of the reason why he keeps jumping from different disciplines, to fulfil the urge to simply create. A Boy from the Woods is not the only work that is a product of this driving force. Pawluk has also has composed albums of work reflecting on his traveling experiences.
Like many creative persons, Pawluk admits to struggling with finding motivation and allotting time to his art, as well as starting new projects. He gives the advice to young artists to act on the itch of a good idea, even if it doesn’t get finished. However, he acknowledges that this advice is not always easy: “I have this terrible habit of starting something, and doing nothing else until I finish it”. He explains that he often neglects eating and sleeping in the pursuit of finishing a project. Once he began piecing together A Boy from the Woods, this habitual process rang true. He explains, however, that it’s the healthiest to just work on something, even if it’s just jotting something down: “That’s just the way I work. I mean, you don’t have to finish something, you just kind of have to do it”.
About the book A Boy from the Woods
A Boy from the Woods was published in February of this year. It is really an autobiography, as he puts it, but does not need to be labelled as such for someone else to understand and resonate with it. He explains that each poem can stand alone, but together they make up his life happenings. The poems are arranged in chronological order. As he states on the first page, “It’s not all real, but it’s all true”.
The title speaks for itself, as the whole compilation is mostly nature based, illustrating his experiences growing up in the wilderness that is Northwestern Ontario. Though Pawluk is proud of the work he has produced thus far, he admits that the Dream Images Collection from the book is some of his favourite work. Drawing from spells of reoccurring dreams, Pawluk explores known places in his dreams; however, aspects are always notably altered. The Sleeping Giant and Dorion are places these dreams take him, but are not the same as in reality. He has these dreams more frequently than not, and says he enjoys them, but does not try to provoke them before falling asleep.
Pawluk wrote the poems found in A Boy from the Woods over three to five years and loosely arranged them chronologically for their publication. Each collection suits a period of time in Pawluks life, something that might not translate to the reader, but doesn’t have to for them to take something away from it: “Most of the poems were written already, prior to the decision of creating the book except for the Dream Images collection. However each poem was revised and revised again”. Pawluk spoke of the technicalities and realities a writer goes through on the journey of publishing a book, saying, “It was a lot of editing and formatting, and mostly organizing them (the poems) in a way that in a way that makes sense”. This part of writing often goes unnoticed.
Hitting the Shelves
“It’s kind of scary, mostly just because I’m from a small town and everybody knows me. It’s very personal, but being in music I had to learn to distance myself from the ‘that’s not very good’ comments. I just try to be honest in what I write, what I compose, the pictures that I take, and then people can take it or leave it. If one person enjoys it or benefits from it, that’s what really matters”. Pawluk is overwhelmed by response and support of the community thus far. Having a book signing allowed for countless conversations about his work with both familiar and new faces. For now, Pawluk is frequenting craft shows with his book and working hard to spread the word on A Boy from the Woods, which can be found at Chapters in Thunder Bay. Pawluk also shared that he is working on a new book called Ready, a novel about a solo hiking trip in Scotland. There’s no telling what discipline he might take on next, but if one thing is for sure it’s that the product will be nothing short of extraordinary.
Visit Micah Pawluk’s website or Facebook page for more information on what he is creating: