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: