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Poetry of Place at WWF

Book review: Poets Arleen Paré, Jane Munro, Garth Martens and Bren Simmers



Whistler hosts the 2015 Writers Festival from Oct. 15 to 18. Pique is running reviews of books by attending authors to celebrate. For information and tickets: www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

Sometimes the road is dark. People we love suffer. Some of them leave. When that happens I think of light and holding space. Sometimes, though, I saddle the horse and search for some place else to go.

This year, the Whistler Writers Festival has invited four poets — all remarkable cartographers of their art. Their poems are maps to places remembered, re-constructed, or new and never seen before. I have been reading these poet/storytellers all year. Letting them do the surveying, trace the new geography. I have simply followed to new lands, physical and psychological. Places of belonging.

Last year, Arleen Paré won the Governor General's Award for poetry, the premiere literary award in Canada for Lake of Two Mountains. Paré takes us to that eponymous lake — to the relationships around it, the history and stories of it, a Trappist monastery located beside it — until the reader, too, inhabits this place and its memories.

From "Distance Closing In": flint-dark far-off/ sky on the move across the lake/ slant sheet closing in/sky collapsing from its bowl/ shoreline waiting taut/ stones dark as plums.

Poet Jane Munro won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize in 2015 for Blue Sonoma, a book largely about her partner's journey away from her and into Alzheimer's. The poems are spare and exquisite, and uncompromising in their focus. They go deep into a husband's twisting changing landscape.

The old man/ who works in the garden/ grows garlic./ He asks what day it is. /Hail falls,/ On every bent leaf, a load/ of pearls.

"Forget where you were going" is the opening line of Garth Martens' Prologue for the Age of Consequence, for which he was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. You are not going there. You are going down roads you might never have dreamed of. Rough roads in the Alberta tar sands and the men who work then. Martens put me in mind of the American poet Philip Levine who worked in the Detroit auto industry and wrote poetry of the tradesmen with a grace, strength, and vulnerability as Martens does.

He travels north from camp to camp,/ trailers on dunnage, gravel,/ rusted barrels and stacked wood.

Poet Bren Simmers, in her book Hastings-Sunrise, is mapping a neighbourhood. This yearlong cycle of poems is a collection of stories that claim a place. They are poems that long for home, for rootedness. Until the poet herself is re-claimed.

People we pass every day/ become our landscape,/ and we, theirs./ A friend tells time/ by where she passes/ the same woman/ on her way to work.

The world will give us light and dark. Joy and sorrow. Always there will be impossible places. The poet's gift is the horse to saddle and the dusty road.

Mary MacDonald will moderate Poetry of Place, featuring poets Arleen Paré, Bren Simmers, Garth Martens and Jane Munro. The Whistler Writers Festival reading event takes place Saturday, Oct.17 at 11:30 a.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

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