Poetry walking in Saskatchewan

A week spent with environmental literati from around the country and beyond was stimulating, delicious and rather warm at times. The first ALECC conference since pandemic times was, as they say, an intimate affair – not everyone who could have attended was yet willing or able to rub shoulders – but protective measures such as masked indoor events felt safe and comradely.

Tuesday, the evening before the conference began, Mari-Lou Rowley, Katherine Lawrence and I read from our new collections to a live (masked) audience who joyously filled the reading space at McNally Robinson, with another 35 or so attending online through the magic of live streaming.

On Wednesday, Mari-Lou and I attended ALECC’s opening reception (the food was excellent and plentiful) and caught up with some familiar names and faces. Ariel Gordon, Tanis MacDonald and Kit Dobson read from their new books with Wolsak and Wynn, and the “Confluence” exhibit by Susan Shantz was on throughout the conference in the next door gallery (her talk on Friday night, “Confluences of Water, Art and Science,” with collaborator Graham Strickert, was excellent)



Thursday I was teaching online all morning and turned up in time for the first of two Poetry Walks, with Ariel and Tanis. It was much fun – we walked along a walking / running trail, stopping at intervals to read poems to our followers. Ariel borrowed one of ALECC’s helpful balloons to guide us.


Rhona, reading from Larder


Ah that green balloon


Tanis and Ariel under the cottonwood trees


We pause to sniff some wild aromatics

The setting for our Thursday night barbecue dinner was stunning; a hidden grove on the campus of our host organization, the University of Saskatchewan. The prairie dogs (Richardson’s Ground Squirrels) appeared not to have found this space, busy as they were gorging on the drifts of elm seed that covered much of the city… another sign of trouble, since trees shed seed when feeling stressed and needing to secure their genetic futures.

A river of elm seed on a Saskatoon street

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel – making the grounds  somewhat hazardous to human walkers

Friday was a long and rather warm day, temperatures starting to climb into the high 20s. Technical difficulties interrupted a video session, but it was all low tech for readings in the  “Ceremony, Desire, Requiem: The Poetics of Water and Land” panel. Sheri Benning kicked off with a reading from Field Requiem (starting with the beautiful “Winter Sleep” which was featured in film form on the Paris Review website last winter). Self-described “Indiginerd” Tenille K. Campbell followed with a passionate romp through poems from Nedí Nezu, and some straight talk on some realities of indigeneity in northern SK.

Saturday was a hot one, with temperatures forecast to reach 36c, so I was delighted to find we had a good following for our final poetry walk. Ariel, Tanis and I were joined by Lisa Bird-Wilson who read work about residential schools, while we read mostly environmental poems including a couple by Victoria poet Yvonne Blomer, who had planned the event but was unable to attend.

Lisa Bird-Wilson

Ariel reads, in the Sculpture Park

Tanis reads – finally some blessed shade

At least the pelicans could chill in the South Saskatchewan River

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