Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paddling Poets Deliver Poetry Readings by Canoe

Photo: fishquillpoetryboat

by Bonnie Alter, London

It's so Canadian. Where else would you find a group of poets setting out by canoe to give poetry readings? Only in Ontario you say...

It's the Fish Quill Poetry Boat: a group of 8 paddling poets, in four canoes, paddled the Grand River, giving reading tours at small towns along the way.

Travelling along the Grand River, from Elora to Six Nations Grand River Territory, they stopped to give readings and play music in cafes, arts centres, by camp fires, in covered bridges and outside until a storm chased them in. They had a musician on hand to liven things up.

It wasn't easy. The bugs were bad, the racoons took their food and the storms drenched them one night. They were not experienced canoeists but they paddled 5 to 6 hours a day, through all kinds of weather; rain and storms and broiling sun. To make things more challenging they rotated canoes, so each day they were paddling with some one different.

Photo: fishquillpoetryboat

Now comes the question: why did they do it? Canoes are a strong part of Canadian culture and the rivers were the original communication routes in the country before people built roads. They "wondered how taking a bunch of non-nature poets on a supremely "Canadian" canoe tour would affect how we and our audiences think about contemporary Canadian poetry."

Since most reading tours bypass small and mid-sized towns in favour of major urban centres the poets wanted to know if "you show up in a canoe can you still read poems about robots?"

The answer was yes: their poetry was contemporary and not necessarily nature poetry. They read poems about urban lives and how they related to a rural setting. Many of their poems ended up being about the weather.

The experience was memorable; they learned about life in a different part of the country, lived with the elements and as poets were able to define their place in contemporary culture through audience members' heartfelt responses.

... read more story at

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