Friday, Oct 2 | 2:45-4:30 pm


“To Rebuild What We Destroy”: Mourning in the Poetry of Robert Bringhurst

Kirsten Alm

For decades, the West-Coast poet, typographer, translator and linguist Robert Bringhurst, one of the prodigious group of Canadian poets including Tim Lilburn, Jan Zwicky, Dennis Lee, and Don McKay, has been a passionate critic of what he perceives to be a self-destructive culture rooted in Western, post-Enlightenment philosophy. Addressing an unexplored yet highly significant thread of mourning in Bringhurst’s writing, this study will consider how Bringhurst’s writing is productively understood in relation to the nature writing of other West Coast poets. Bringhurst’s writing can be situated neither in trends within nature writing that are optimistic for cultural regeneration – represented in this study by the work of Gary Snyder – nor amongst the more ‘anti-human’ trends within nature poetry, for which the writing of Robinson Jeffers is representative. Instead, Bringhurst’s poetry demands to be encountered as a space of mourning, a place of literary exhuming that may also be a place of transformation.

Filling a major gap in critical attention to this important Canadian poet, this paper explores Bringhurst’s attempts to open a poetic space of resistance to post-Enlightenment dualism that alienates the individual from the physical world. In his essay “The Silence that is Not Poetry – And the Silence that is” Bringhurst argues that “poetry is a breathing hole in the ice of our identity.” Indeed, Bringhurst’s poetry embodies a potential where individual identity is transformed through poetic attention to the reality of polyphonic being, both human and non-human, that has been disavowed by Euramerican colonizing instincts. Bringhurst’s poetry attempts to gather and mourn the rich heritage of those ways of being which the dominant Euramerican culture has disremembered or marginalized, an act of attention and desire which lays a foundation for a different way of being in the world.


Kirsten Alm is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English Literature at the University of Victoria specializing in twentieth-century American literature. She received her Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Humanities from TWU focusing on memory and historical representation. Her research interests include nature poetry, cultural memory, literatures of the West Coast, and the intersections of Canadian and American poetry and poetics. Her dissertation examines the influence of Wallace Stevens’ poetics on Robert Bringhurst’s writing and examines the two authors’ representations of nature and their literary acts of place-making in the context of North American nature writing.

Back to Schedule

Poetry and Environmental Concern

Carl Tracie 

In studies relating to the environment, physical geographers, as scientists, focus on the “facts” of human impact, the scale and magnitude of the spatial aspects of environmental change.  Other geographers look to the humanities for insights into the way humans are emotionally and psychologically involved in both creating and reacting to these changes.  Although used sparingly by geographers, poetry dealing with ecological deterioration is readily found and frequently powerful.  It condemns the environmental consequences of human ignorance, apathy, and greed with evocative language and striking imagery.  This paper examines the work of several Canadian poets, especially the work of Di Brandt, Lorna Crozier, and Tim Lilburn, well-known for their environmental concern, in order to illustrate their effectiveness in engaging environmental concerns, and to ascertain what insights they might offer to environmental science.  I will supplement my analysis with reference to several other poets, including Aboriginal poets.

One aspect of this paper lays stress on the female voice in these poems which responds to acts of environmental oppression in the same way they respond to oppression of women and children.  The female voice is sharp and edged with anger as compared to the male voice.  Both, however, provide insights into the emotional aspects of environmental concern.  Another aspect is the similarity of concerns between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal poets dealing with these issues, although the Aboriginal voice arises from a more intimate relationship with the land. 


Carl Tracie is Emeritus Professor of Geography, Trinity Western University.  His book, "Shaping a World Already Made: Landscape and Poetry of the Canadian Prairies” will be published in Fall 2015 by the University of Regina Press.

Back to Schedule

Sea Rhythm, Resonance and Relinquishment in Jan Zwicky’s “Envoy: Seven Variations”

Katharine Bubel 

For over twenty years, Canadian ecopoet, philosopher, and violinist Jan Zwicky has investigated in her prose and poetry a way of knowing she calls lyric thinking.  She defines such activity, which is also receptivity, as “thinking in love with coherence…resonant integrity” (“Details” 92). Lyric thinking is, in part, a practice of ego-relinquishment for the sake of resonance, that is, ecological attentiveness and erotic attunement, with the more-than-human world. Such thinking about reality can be expressed, though not exclusively, through the lyric poem, a composition in the medium of language “in which every detail is resonant” (93). In this paper, I observe the dialectic between lyric thinking and her related concept of “domesticity,” or engagement with the world as one’s home, in her sequence “Envoy: Seven Variations,” which concludes her latest collection of poetry (Forge, 2011). My act of interpretation will take up the conference question, “How can the arts address alienation and woundedness at the planetary as well as the individual level.”

From a bioregionalist, or place-based, angle of interpretation, I will pay particular attention to the rhythm of the sea within the poem, a lyrical, elegiac composition of seven “songs for relinquishing” (to borrow from the title of her 1998 poetry collection). Alberta-born Zwicky has lived on the West Coast since she began to teach philosophy at the University of Victoria in 1996, where her friend and fellow ecopoet Tim Lilburn teaches. In 2009, she left the university and moved to Quadra Island with partner Robert Bringhurst.  One of my presuppositions is that, given Zwicky’s commitment to lyric thinking, the oceanic conditions of the coastal environs in which she has made her home for two decades inflect her recent poetry, and specifically, this poem. I will also explore how her expressed concern about anthropogenic climate change and anticipation of attendant loss are registered in the poem’s tidal tension of loving and letting go. “Envoy: Seven Variations” is a witness of experience and a psychagogic exercise in relinquishment and affirmation, but it gestures more widely toward the ethical need for our technologies to incorporate acceptance of the structure of reality: the “emptiness and fullness of things” (Alkibiades’ 14).


Katharine Bubel is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Victoria. Her dissertation investigates representations of sacred nature in the work of west coast poets Robinson Jeffers, Theodore Roethke, Denise Levertov, Robert Hass, and Jan Zwicky. HerSSHRC-funded project particularly attends to the various spiritual practices, commitments, and poetic strategies that inform the poets’ engagement with the more-than-human community. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century poetry, environmental humanities (ecocriticism, ecophilosophy, ecotheology), and particularly, the intersections of religious and environmental imaginations in literature. She holds a Masters in Interdisciplinary Humanities (MAIH) degree from Trinity Western University, where she is a part-time instructor.

Back to Schedule