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Poet Jan Zwicky to share love of nature at Sidney literary festival

Hugo Wong

News staff

From Sept. 22-24, 14 Canadian authors from across the country will descend on the Mary Winspear Centre for the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival. This is the first of three author profiles.

For poet, philosopher and essayist Jan Zwicky, the natural world is a source of joy and inspiration, but also of pain — both emotional and physical.

Outside her back door on Quadra Island is 140 acres of Crown land with trails that lead to a harbour and some old growth trees where she can see the main spine of Vancouver Island, which she calls “stunningly beautiful.”

But like many islanders, who live close to nature and grow their own food, she’s been dealing with a drought and has had to hand-water her vegetables for the past eight weeks — a long and difficult process.

“I’m often challenged for time, but I wouldn’t do it any other way,” says Zwicky. “It keeps me honest.”

Born in Mayerthorpe, Alta., Zwicky went to university in Calgary and Toronto, then taught philosophy at Princeton and the Universities of Alberta, Waterloo, New Brunswick, and Victoria before settling on Quadra Island 10 years ago with her husband, fellow poet Robert Bringhurst. However, the wilderness has always been a running theme in her work.

At this year’s Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival, Zwicky will be reading from her latest book of poetry, entitled The Long Walk. Zwicky says it reaches back to an earlier book, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, which also deals with environmental devastation.

She says that the new book is darker in some ways given the environmental decline of the last 20 years, but has tried to include something transformative in the conclusion.

“I‘ve spent a lot of my life outdoors and learned as a child how the land speaks to us, supports us, loves us, and the fact that we as a culture are not caring enough is a great source of grief for me.”

She does political work and teaches about environmental matters, but Zwicky says that “poetry is the deep and direct expression of my love for the natural world and my concerns for it.”

This is Zwicky’s first appearance at the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival, and Zwicky looks forward to hearing other authors read, because she says that poetry is meant to be read.

“The work has its origin in the live voice and when you speak it aloud there’s less room for interpretation and doubt about what you might have meant.”

Zwicky also looks forward to interacting with audience members, who she says “bring a very fine sort of listening.”

“Generally, I’ve found people to be generous, articulate, and intelligent. I’m always humbled when they like it.

“They often have interesting things they can tell me about connections in their own lives, and that’s always moving for me.”

For tickets and more information, visit sidneyliteraryfestival.ca