12 Years of Growth and Transformation in Marlene Creates’ Boreal Poetry Garden

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Local poet and artist Marlene Creates has been exploring ideas about place and our relationship to the land through her work for 35 years. Her ongoing project The Boreal Poetry Garden brings together science and the arts to celebrate six acres of boreal forest in Portugal Cove.

Creates invites audiences on a guided tour of the forest. As visitors wind their way through The Boreal Poetry Garden, they come upon artists and scientists who interpret the landscape for the viewers.

The tours have become so popular that this year two evenings of the tour completely sold out. When Creates added an additional evening it also filled up within twenty-four hours.

“Part of my goal is to raise the appreciation of the boreal forest in Newfoundland.We’re so focused on the sea and the coastline (naturally, I totally understand that) but it seems to me that the boreal forest we live in is also very special,” Creates said.

The project began in 2005 when Creates first moved to Portugal Cove. The landscape inspired her to write a series of short, haiku-style poems, which she handwrote on card stock and temporarily installed in the spot they described. Creates then photographed the poems in the landscape.

“The environment is the best part of poem. The words are just a way to point at something that’s there or something that was there at one time, something fleeting like a woodpecker I happen to hear in a certain spot,” Creates said, describing the impulse to install and photograph her poems.

Gradually, Creates began writing poems that were too long to fit on the small pieces of cardstock. She began inviting people to Portugal Cove to hear her recite poems in the forest. Eventually the project became collaborative, Creates asked scientists and other artists to join the tour to give performances and presentations about that particular piece of land.

“I’m trying to create cross-over between the arts and the sciences, blend them together,” Creates said. “If you had a mycologist and a clarinet player on stage at the LSPU Hall it wouldn’t make sense, but it’s amazing how having both science and arts present at the same event works when you’re standing in the boreal forest.”

For Creates, having so many people make work about The Boreal Poetry Garden has added new layers of meaning to her chunk of forest. Now when she walks through the six acres, different sites remind her of the performances that took place there.

There is a small waterfall on a river that runs through The Boreal Poetry Garden, and each time Creates passes it she thinks of a performance by accordion player Florian Hoefner and Clarinet player Christine Carter.  The two musicians performed a semi-improvised, semi-composed piece there, incorporating the sound of the waterfall into the music.

“The sound of the river was enhanced by what they played and when they stopped playing it was almost like the river was louder, it was just amazing how it sensitized us to the sounds of the river,” Creates said.

Creates hopes that people will leave The Boreal Poetry Garden with a deeper appreciation of Newfoundland’s boreal forest and more awake to their surroundings in general.

“It’s all to bring people into the present moment, so that the present becomes something very large that takes us and the landscape that surrounds us in,” Creates said, “so the present isn’t just a tiny point between an enormous past and a vast future. If I succeed in doing that I feel like I’ve really achieved something.

This year’s tour Fire|Light in The Boreal Poetry Garden will include Kjell Andersson on accordion; Carissa Brown on the ecology of fire and light in the boreal forest; Marlene Creates, reading poetry; Don McKay reading poetry and speaking about the Moon; and Aaron McKim, fire-eating, juggling, and spinning.

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Eva Crocker

Eva Crocker is a writer from St. John's, her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, was published by House of Anansi Press in 2017.

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