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.