Friday, May 08, 2015

Out-of-Town-Authors: Elena Johnson

Quill & Quire, WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Ariel Gordon

Elena Johnson is a Vancouver-based poet who recently launched her first book, Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra (Gaspereau Press). The collection was written and researched during a month-long stint in 2008 as writer-in-residence at a remote ecology research station in the Yukon.

It was a unique experience for Johnson, who’s worked as a field ecology researcher and park interpreter, but who currently makes her living as an editor. “I was helicoptered in with the food supplies, and I hiked out at the end of my stay,” she says.

Johnson spoke to Q&Q about the collection.

This book is set in the alpine tundra. What was it like, working so intensely with a landscape?

It seems I’m almost always working intensely with a landscape. I can’t help it – it’s where my focus naturally goes, especially in longer series of poems. And wilderness expeditions are what I would ideally like to be doing all the time. So spending a few weeks solidly immersed in this remote mountain range, with a tent to sleep in, food to eat, scientists to chat with over dinner, and my days fairly free for wandering and writing, was dreamy.

I didn’t find it very different than writing about other landscapes or ecosystems, except that I had such freedom and time in the alpine tundra to focus and observe. The alpine tundra is a very unique biome: it’s above the tree line, it’s sparsely vegetated with tiny plants, and it’s interspersed with stretches of scree and patches of snow. Where I was, in the Ruby Range, if you climb up to the top of a mountain ridge, you see an endless series of mountain ridges in almost every direction.

The deep silence I experienced in that environment was something my brain had to adjust to. There’s a poem in the book called “Silent for the Dry Season” that attempts to describe this silence; it was one of the most difficult poems to try to get right.

To read the rest of the interview, see the Quill & Quire website.

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This interview is part of a National Poetry Month feature on Quill & Quire. Also in the series were interviews with BC poet Bren Simmers & MB writer K. I. Press.

My thanks to Sue Carter for her judicious editing of the interviews. I compiled them over a week and a half and while I originally felt I could have done more—so many good western Canadian writers with books this spring!—in the end, three was plenty.

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