Final Lorenzo Reading Series before the holidays: Poetry reading with Susan Gillis and Stephanie Bolster

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The last Lorenzo Reading Series event of the semester was a poetry reading with two Canadian poets who live, write and teach creative writing in the Montreal area. Both of these women have won numerous awards for their work, which is well-deserved based on their extraordinary talent for translating ideas and scenes into words.

Susan Gillis performed her reading first, from her newest collection of poems, The Rapids, which was published earlier  this year. This tumultuous collection explored her experiences of “coming to terms with a new landscape” after moving to the Montreal area from Vancouver Island.

Away from the ocean, Gillis sought a replacement for the familiar beaches of her previous home. Her wanderings led her to the St. Lawrence River and she wrote several poems inspired by the impassable Lachine Rapids and the St. Lawrence itself.

Gillis’ writing is very fluid, as she takes the reader to the brink of the rapids themselves, for a very “edge of the world feeling.” Some of her studies of the Rapids, such as the poem “Open Throttle,” focus on sensations of being “inside the noise” of the river. This writing truly transports the reader (or listener), as one is swept up in the visual, auditory and even tactile sensations of the river.

Beneath this imagery, Gillis contemplates deeper themes of loss, coming of age, sexual exploration and transplantation in a new landscape. Her writing is very accessible to the untrained reader, as the imagery helps convey the human experiences that she writes about.

Stephaine Bolster read from her collection A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth, which was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award in 2012. Bolster described herself and Gillis as “obsessive poets,” as both collections stem from a single place.

Bolster’s writings were inspired by nineteenth century zoos in Western Europe, where she travelled to research the history of these once-magnificent exhibits. In A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth, Bolster explores the “ornate and decrepit places” as a setting for the solitary individual who meanders through them. Her writing is mesmerizing.

The reader/listener is instantly captured by the imagery, particularly scenes in Parisian zoos juxtaposed with war-stricken zoos of Afghanistan and Bangladesh. One particularly haunting image was that of Bangladesh families moving into the abandoned aviaries of a Dhaka zoo after an earthquake. This collection is a must-read for anyone who has even felt uncomfortable at a zoo, wondering if the animals have any idea what their natural habitat would be like.

Bolster combines humor and introspection to ponder the perspectives of animals in their cages who watch the humans that come to gawk at them.

In the discussion following the readings, Bolster suggested that “writing poetry helps [her] to understand the world.” The reader can also gain a new appreciation and awareness of the natural world from the writing of Gillis and Bolster.