Alison Dyer’s New Poetry Collection Celebrates Newfoundland’s Untameable Landscape

Alison Dyer’s new poetry collection, I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game, captures Newfoundland’s dangerously unpredictable landscape with precise and unexpected language.

Alison Dyer’s new poetry collection, I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game, captures Newfoundland’s dangerously unpredictable landscape with precise and unexpected language.

“I don’t think poetry has to be overly cerebral. I’m in awe of the natural world and to me it’s really important that when people read a poem they see it and feel it and smell it,” Dyer said.

“When I’m out on a walk in the woods my senses get all swished up, like in a washing machine, that’s where my poetry comes from.”

Dyer is an award-winning poet, fiction writer, and journalist whose work has been published in many prestigious Canadian journals and periodicals. She has a background in bio-geography and was an avid sea kayaker for ten years. In her poetry, there is both a scientist’s love of meticulous categorization and an adventurer’s admiration for nature’s indiscriminate brute force.

“I remember a sea kayaking trip around Newfoundland’s South Coast, which is the most spectacular landscape. I felt like I shouldn’t be doing it because I had small kids at home but at the same time I was thinking ‘I love this, I love the danger, I love the anticipation.’ The wind and the sea are so enticing but also so scary, I find that inspiring,” Dyer said.

Dyer grew up in England before emigrating to Quebec and later moving to Newfoundland, where she currently splits her time between St. John’s and Hants Harbour. Dyer’s geographer’s sensibility influences not only her subject matter but also the structure of her collection. I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game is divided into five sections, bookended by poems about Hants Harbour and poems about St. John’s. In a way, the collection is a map of the places Dyer calls home.

In the middle of the collection are two suites of poems titled “Apostles of the Boreal” and “Apostles of the Boreal (con’t).” Each of the poems in these sections anthropomorphizes a particular species of tree, giving it characteristics based on its appearance, the types of animals that inhabit it, and how it transforms as the seasons change.

For example the white birch’s bark makes the tree look like, “A barefoot, pale-skinned hippie with the tie-dyed dress.” These poems are playful, but the deft descriptions demonstrate a wealth of knowledge about the boreal forest that gives them depth.

In the final poem of the suite, “Red Pine (the memory stick)” there is a stylistic shift. The other poems in the “Apostles of the Boreal” sections only reveal what the speaker observes about the different trees and how she interprets what she sees.

However, in the final poem we begin to see why the speaker believes these trees are worthy of such close observation. The red pine evokes memories that make her feel rooted in a new place.

“Red Pine is about spending my childhood in England and then emigrating to Canada. When I first saw pine trees here, I remembered seeing them back in England. I think I feel so at home in Newfoundland because the landscape feels like home,” Dyer explained.

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