Poems to find in Ottawa (maybe)

A post ago, I mentioned the CSArt project and how rout/e has been incorporated into it as part of their 2016-2017 season: poems planted in urban Ottawa.

The poems are now in various spots in Ottawa, with grateful thanks to Katherine Forster of Wild. Here. and Grant Wilkins of The Grunge Papers for their help. Katherine Forster was instrumental in finding locations; she has done a lot of exploring of various Ottawa sites.

In no particular order:

Christine McNair: “advanced mourning” ~ Montfort Forest (est. 45.44784, -75.64031)

Shery Alexander Heinis: “Down that Hole” ~ Reid Park (est. 45.39828, -75.72374 )

vera wabegijig: “migration” ~ Andrew Haydon Park (est. 45.35189, -75.8186)

a.m. kozak: “AND THEN COMES THE STATIC” ~ Carlington (est. 45.37272, -75.74418)

Ian Martin: “deep dream” ~ Fairmont Park (est. 45.39899, -75.71906)

Jenn Baker: “unmoored” ~ Strathcona Park ( est. 45.42444, -75.6693)

Sarah MacDonell: “this tree belongs to the city (and that one too) ~ Uplands (est. 45.34989, -75.68857)

Enjoy finding the poems…and you may not find them, also. These sites were chosen for a variety of reasons: nearby communities, species interactions, elevations, geology, convenience, and fun. The poems, if they remain in their locations, will change over time.


CSArt Ottawa: rout/e

In and around a year ago, I was approached by CSArt Ottawa to curate the rout/e project in Ottawa as part of the CSArt Ottawa 2016-2017 season. CSArt Ottawa promotes local art through subscription; modelled on the agricultural CSA model, whereby produce is bought in advance by subscribers and then delivered to them through the growing season, CSArt Ottawa offers art experiences and/or pieces to subscribers throughout the year. rout/e is the final offering for 2017; to date, subscribers have participated in events offered by musicians The Peptides, theatre duo Thunk! Theatre, visual artist Mark B. Stephenson, and ceramicist and outdoor land art curator Susie Osler (who asked me to collaborate with her on her event, water~table). Details of what each of these artists have created for subscribers can be found on the CSArt blog.

I was able to see and meet most of the subscribers at an event in early April. Artists, writers, musicians, and actors don’t always have meaningful opportunity to meet the individuals who are interested in their work: paintings are sold; books are bought and handed around; concerts are attended or music is listened to in a variety of ways; participatory theatre (which Thunk! does engage in) offers some chances to meet, but then again, conversation might not be as possible. It was a pleasure to meet the subscribers — I got the sense that none of them would run screaming if they happened upon a chance poem….artworks offer contemplation, conversation, and experiences, and the CSArt project enables gatherings and conversation.

Yet, the notion of planting rout/e poems in Ottawa gave me a bit of pause a year ago, despite my “yes”. That pause came entirely from my own conceptions of the project and considerations of place and change. How would placing poems within urban spaces and landscapes affect the project, especially given that I normally work somewhat unobtrusively (some say evasively) on trails that are seasonally inaccessible, or have low human traffic. Would monitoring the Ottawa poems offer any difficulties? How would they last within urban density? Where the heck would I put the pieces? Who would I ask to participate? Is there a certain non-tolerance in urban spaces for things that erode or which, over time, alter enough to destroy the initial aesthetic or (in the case of words) readability/acoustic elements? With greater population density, is there an expectation for explanation, tags, signage? & etc.

Of course, all of these questions are somewhat moot, given that change and unknowns underpin rout/e. It’s part of the fun of it. However, there could be intriguing differences in how the poems are approached by members of an urban population, accessed by walkers, bus riders, cyclists and taxi-cab clients as opposed to the folks who cross rural space by hiking, ATV, snowmobile, and skiing (and the occasional 4×4 and tractor). There could be differences in recognition of poets — quite a few of rout/e participants have been from Ottawa, but their poems planted rurally, on trails 70km+ away. Trail travellers may not know them. It could be that in an urban space, some of the poets are recognized more easily through their readings, attendance at literary events, or accessibility of their chap/books at urban outlets. This may affect the longevity of the poem where it is planted.

rout/e is a collaborative process — formerly mainly between the poets, myself, and then the folks who come across the pieces. This time around, the collaboration has expanded in a lovely way to include an individual with expertise in Ottawa “wild” places, an individual with paper making and letterpress knowledge and skills, poets and participants who recommended the seven poets whose work will be planted in Ottawa, and the CSArt ‘gang’ who somehow found rout/e, back when.

Katherine Forster, who runs wild.here, a blog space for places, spaces, and natural movements within Ottawa, has extensive knowledge of unknown trails and pockets within Ottawa, as well as the more travelled-to areas. In early May, she and I will be zipping around Ottawa to plant the poems. Katherine led me to Petrie Island, several years ago, co-curating the rout/e plantings in her role as a volunteer coordinator there. I’m quite grateful for her knowledge and enthusiasm. The subscribers will receive a map of where the poems are located, so that they can find them. Normally, I don’t give much information in the way of location, other than descriptors or road names, leaving trail goers to figure things out from there, or to come upon the poems by happenstance. I’m hoping subscribers will take pictures or read the poems out loud, posting them…there is a soundcloud site for rout/e, in case this ever occurred to folks who come across poems.

I am grateful to Grant Wilkins (The Grunge Papers) for the hand-made paper he’s made and for compiling the chapbooks. As part of their subscription, subscribers  (so limited edition to subscribers, the poets, and the folks who recommended the poets) will receive a chapbook of poems by these seven poets. The poems will sit within an outer cover of hand-made paper crafted and letterpressed by Grant. He’s been hard at work making paper for his own projects, as well as this one. It’s been great collaborating with him on the design of the chapbook.

The work of choosing the poets would have been much more difficult without the generosity of some of the previous participants of rout/e: rob mclennan, Amanda Earl, Pearl Pirie, Sandra Ridley and Jason Christie. As I am rarely in Ottawa, and, quite frankly, can’t keep up with what is a burgeoning, healthy, scene, I thought it’d be neat to have an informal group of recommenders. They quite helpfully suggested some poets, based on their knowledge of rout/e and its workings.

The poets are:

a.m. kozak, Vera Wabegjig, Sarah MacDonnell, Christine McNair, Ian Martin, Shery Alexander Heinis, and Jenn Baker.



Delinquent, deliquescent

Some of the fun of rout/e is that many things are left unexplained. Elements of each planting remain to be seen. I do like an un-ending

But, lately, there is Cecilie Bjørgäs Jordheim’s enjoyable and intriguing “Black Walnut Grove” project — a series of blank, handwritten, scores (sheet music) — planted in late February at the black walnut grove (tucked within the acreage of the strangely perplexed and beautiful Kemptville campus of the old University of Guelph land). A query in late fall 2016 to derek beaulieu regarding replanting pieces at the black walnut grove to focus on the act(ings/ions) of conversation, resulted in his suggestion of Cecilie’s work; derek kindly acted as a liaison between us; she sent him her “Black Walnut Grove” pieces, and he forwarded them onward via snail mail (along with a lovely package of no press work by Jordan Abel and a few others). In 2014, I had used the black walnut grove to plant three separate rows of work by derek beaulieu, Monty Reid, and Sandra Ridley. On one of my recent ventures to the grove, I uncovered one of beaulieu’s pieces buried by leaf litter as I was kneeling to take a picture of one of Jordheim’s pieces; a few of Ridley’s are also still quite evident, in another row.

Jordheim’s hand-drawn pieces came in the form of ten, singular, beige notecards of slightly thicker stock, labelled “black walnut grove 1 movement” and onward, to 10. Jordheim’s scores, articulated as movements, fit perfectly into a site that is mostly abandoned by humans but is an access point by air, land and water for multiples of other species. While much of the focus could be on the physical movements and placings within this space, its abandoned nature, combined with the careful initial planning and placement of the nut grove between cedar hedges, makes it a conceptual and real auditorium for the variations of sound that can be heard here throughout the year.  Conversation is constant and unwritten.

Jordheim is a versatile artist with a concrete thoughtfulness behind her work. From her website (worthwhile to go through):

Through installations, visual scores and concrete poetry, Jordheim’s work springs from an interdisiplinary agenda; between genres, fields of art and medium, and the thesis that all visual has sound. Jordheim thematizes the human need for systematization and questions if there a direct connection between language and the world; topography, typography, text, architecture and sound/music. The scores are often frame work for a collaboration with musicians, where the outcome is in the translation between the visual and the musical improvisation.

It was advantageous, in retrospect, to plant these pieces in late February because the transition from winter to spring in this region of Ontario can be quite lengthy and dramatic. This year, we experienced multiple snow storms, accompanied by freezing rain and high winds, fluctuating rain storms, and days of increased heat that resulted in melt and run-off with little moisture absorption by the ground (which was still frozen). The effect on these pieces, not sheltered by laminate (as the previous plantings were), was extreme — some pieces were little changed, others became blanks with only Jordheim’s label evident (in faded form), others vanished, blown or eaten. To extend the notion of conversation and score, and to play a bit with the idea of “marking” sound with ephemeral components of physical entities (weather), as well as unknown markers (e.g. species), I added sheets of carbon paper to the back of each movement and placed them against cardboard squares. This created three layers: Jordheim’s movement, carbon paper, cardboard. The wind and rain, working against the surfaces of Jordheim’s work, marked vertical lines (bar-lines) of variable thickness and imprint on the cardboard. In one case, an animal got hold of one of the pieces of cardboard; I found the cardboard under a cedar hedge with a few holes and marks in it.

Each piece was planted in row one of the grove. Not all of the trees have a metal placard in front, the pieces are planted 1-6, then a two-tree “caesura” or break, followed by 7-10. Movements 7 and 10 have become lost; missing movements. Paperclips and double sided 3M tape were used to fasten the pieces to the metal placards; they needed to be stuck on and clipped because of the frigid winter temperatures.These pieces may be taken down in early May and/or another series may be added to them. In a lovely gesture of irony, the black walnut grove is one of several groves in the region planted by ECSONG, even if this one is largely forgotten, other than by locals.






“Drifting” at split rail fence

As I was walking along the Scotch Line trail (which I’ve mentioned before on this blog), snow falling fairly thickly, I was trying to remember where I first came upon Paul Hawkins’ writing. I think it was through Portuguese artist and writer, bruno neiva, who had been working with him on some collaborative pieces. Since Hawkins is in the UK, Google was a handy way to find his work; I bought a couple of his books, and generally have been following what he’s doing and writing since. His writing is consistently thoughtful; words work hard and with intent.

A predominant feature of the landscape is marsh; as you walk, it offers a non-linear boundary to the farmland that you pass by. A predominant human feature is a dry stone fence which eventually becomes a split rail fence along another section of the trail. There is a point at which you walk between marsh and fence (passing a well-shot at map, 911 messaging, and resting point). In winter, snowshoe hare, fox, and coyote tracks, among others, follow the trail and cross the marsh and fence-lines.

Hawkins’ poem “Drifting” sits along the split rail fence where ends of cedar cross, thus starting or ending a new section.  “Drifting” requires a shift in reading. Tight on specifics, the poem eludes the specifics of place; the poem points to routines and patterns but, in all, the individuals of the poem are unsettled, in drift, displaced.”Drifting” is a piece of Contumacy (published by Erbacce Press); the full collection, among many things, has strong place and place-making resonances.

I moved this poem. I planted it last week a section or two down the fence-line, but there was a poem-mishap, so I left the stake and took the poem home to fix the problem. I don’t think that this has happened before. Across the way a bit, plunked into the marsh, is an old telephone pole, still functional, if seeming obsolete in form. I replanted “Drifting” in a more diverse spot, along the same fence-line, still in view of the telephone pole, just past the 911 and map signage, and farther down, the foundations of a — what? — once farmhouse, storage shed, outbuilding, in ruins. On the way back, a lean snowshoe hare leapt across the trail and vanished, its colouration masking its direction.

Red Dada

Finally finished planting Nico Vassilakis‘ “Red Dada”, which, along with work by Paul Hawkins and Linda Russo, makes up a new round of rout/e pieces. Hawkins’ and Russo’s will be planted later this week, weather permitting.

“Red Dada” was planted in the section of Limerick Forest that is accessible via Craig Road – -across the bog, if you’d like, from Hiromi Suzuki’s “A Swimmer” and Bob Hogg’s “Circles”. It took me a while to figure out where to put Vassilakis’ work–and even as I slipped and crunched along one of the trails, I still hadn’t fully worked it out. It seemed fitting, this sliding kind of placement, a conceptual impermanence and siting occurring even before I’d planted the poem.

There was the lovely, rotting, maple tree covered in cascading fungal symmetry; their circling forms and spatial ephemerality seeming rather fitting. Nah. Farther along, a rather grand placement of really large boulders in threes–along a stone fence way marking previous property lines–seemed like a good place too, mainly because of the seeming intention of their placement, but I noticed the space between them, an obvious space twice the boulder’s width, did more to define the boulders than their shapes themselves. Thought about putting the poem right there, in between the series. Nah. How about the empty post right at bog, farther along and to the south? It would aim west-ish, in its way, cutting across chunks of boggy landmass and open (iced) water to what the eye can’t quite access. Nah. Of course, in another season, such observations might have led me to different options or decisions.

Limerick Forest is a managed forest made up of thirds–a third reforested coniferous plantations: managed swaths of red pine, scotch pine, jack pine, and spruce (1940’s reforestation program post abandoned farmland)–a third wetland, and a third mixed deciduous forest. As a result of the tree species, there’s a lot of squirrels.

Vassilakis’ “Red Dada” has been placed beside a rather immense squirrel midden. Slightly off trail, the midden is part stone–from stone castaways likely formed from foundations and stone fencing–infilled by squirrel chews and scrabbling bits of acorn, pine cone, needles, puffs of stuff. His is the first piece printed in colour in rout/e–in a glorious red with cuts and lines of a’s and d’s, perceptually in jumbled movement, given some depth; these accrued letters are a collection as much as a distraction of concept – and better to trace and leave behind a few than try to eye them all at once.

As it’s winter, the tree cover is minimal except for high up where pine branches host multiple cones for squirrels to drop and chew. There are a few tree species that will grow and leaf out in a few months around Red Dada, affecting how it looks (and one sees) in the space, as well as affecting the piece itself. Weather, too will have an effect on ink and form, as will random acts by walkers, should they see it off trail and venture there. Let’s see if the poem does anything.

A Swimmer – Suzuki

Somehow, nearly two years ago, I came across the work of Hiromi Suzuki and contacted her to see if she’d be interested in trading books – one of mine for her Ms. Cried: 77 poems (Kisaragi Publishing 2013). She was quite gracious and agreed; in mail-time, shortly afterward, her book arrived. Ms. Cried is an intriguing collection of poems in Japanese “kanji”, “kana” and “katakana”, and in English, accompanied by diverse b/w structural images and subtle fragmentations and suspensions (photos by ichigo yamamoto). Suzuki explained in an email that Ms. Cried is a compilation of her walking explorations of the springwater and creeks of Tokyo, and her research into the histories of its subterranean streams. Her poems borrow from Japanese folklore, as well as folklore from other cultures, to make connections between suburban modes and symbols of transportation (tramway, station), human movement (walking), and water (aqueducts, streams). For example, she connects the name of a nearby station to a giant in Japanese mythology “Daidarabotchi”, from whose footprints lakes and ponds were created. Ms. Cried‘s title is from the Japanese “水食らい土-mizukuraido”: “水” means water,  “土” means soil, and “食” means eating.

In a recent exchange, Suzuki explained that she wrote her poems in an orthodox Japanese style, but included some experiments, such as her box shaped poems (p. 17, 18, 19). When you navigate Suzuki’s site online, and view some of her work in online journals (BlazVox, Empty Mirror, h& (& recent interview by Ian Whistle’s “We Who Are About To Die” series in the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter)), the versatility of her work is striking — gifs, visual pieces, poetry, book covers offer a glimpse into her skill as an illustrator and poet. Some of her work displays a kind of nostalgic lushness, combined with minimal text, filmic movement, in the vein of near conversations, or strayed thoughts, or cut offs. There is also humour and wit: Suzuki has an eye for incongruities and for leaving things out, her work erases the obvious.

I placed Suzuki’s poem, “A Swimmer”, beside a track going south on the Scotch Line Trail in Merrickville. This particular track is typically flooded, however, this summer was so hot that the marsh and track were dry for a couple of months mid-July to early September. It’s now flooded again, and to navigate it, you’d need boots or a small raft. A weekend or two ago, Grant Wilkins, known to the small press community in Ottawa for his lovely letterpress work and paper-making, among other things, joined me for a walk in Merrickville to check on some of the rout/e pieces, among them Suzuki’s. The track has re-flooded, but “A Swimmer” is in fine shape! Some of these images are from our walk; I’ve also included images from this year’s winter, spring, and summer seasons.


& then they weren’t there

This morning’s walk took me toward Christine LeClerc‘s rout/e piece, “Echoherence”, which I planted in Fall 2015. Over the last year or so, I’ve passed it fairly frequently during distance walks, woodsy explorations, and text embedding. Her piece is part of a fascinating collective glossary organized by the American poet Linda Russo called Place-Relation Ecopoetics: A Collective Glossary.

It is a bad year for deer ticks; the last few months I’ve not been walking that stretch as much. This morning, I thought I’d walk it again, see how the leaf litter was accumulating, take a look at the marsh and other things, and check on Christine’s piece.

It isn’t there.

Other rout/e participants have had poems moved or watched over or taken — not a lot of the latter, actually. But it happens.  I know that others who use the trail had been seeing and reading “Echoherence” because a small path, from the trail to the poem, had started to form. A desire path.

I did look to see if someone had replanted the poem or tossed it into the woods. Nothing so far. I haven’t gone into the marsh in my wading boots yet, so that should be fun. Perhaps someone tossed it there. Perhaps someone took it home, taken with what Christine wrote, and planted it. It’s a bit of a reversal when the poems disappear and then I seek them out…

  • echoherence: Logical or biological interconnection seen through a lens of ecological situatedness. Example: She leaned on a Larch and the shadow they cast was an echoherent.