The Boreal Poetry Garden,
Portugal Cove, Newfoundland 2005– (ongoing)


medium: site-specific poems hand-written on card and installed temporarily for photographing; photographs printed with Ultrachrome inks on Epsom lustre paper.
dimensions: each 30 inches high x 20 inches wide (76 x 51 cm).

The Boreal Poetry Garden is also presented as live-art events with walks and on-site readings, including longer poems.

Beauty is nothing but the beginning of a terror we are just able to endure.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, the First Elegy

For Rilke, beauty was the beginning of a terror; for me, it is a loss—beauty is just the beginning of a loss that I know is inevitable and that I can hardly bear.

The Boreal Poetry Garden commemorates certain fleeting moments of my interaction with the land where I live. The brief texts reflect some of the site’s particular geophysical and climatic characteristics, its plant life, wildlife and social history, and my experiences here. For me, the location of the words in the specific spot to which they refer is fundamental to the radiating energy of their meaning and, of course, their beauty. The place I inhabit is both wondrous and constantly changing, which, I know, entails loss. My cosmology, I suspect, is basically elegiac.

Visibility, Meaning and Language
It seems to me that the meaning of a place cannot be photographed. One of the crucial questions behind my work is: can there be meaning without language? It’s strange for a photographer, perhaps, but I am more and more taken by what I cannot see, by what is not visible—the flexible, elusive, and ever-changing layers of meaning in places. For example, there is an overgrown meadow in front of my house. Fishing families from the cove, a couple of miles away—where the houses stand close to each other on a rocky hillside over the salt water—grew potatoes in this old meadow at one time. And the main path through the woods behind my house was formed by people walking back and forth to the stream, carrying water to the vegetable gardens. I learned the meaning of this sublime path and meadow, their history as part of a labour-intensive subsistence, through language.

Detals of Geography and Local Culture
One of the inspirations for the poetry garden is the rich Newfoundland vernacular. Its words reflect a very concrete correlation between this language and this landscape. Here are some of my favourite idioms that connect with this locale:

bawn: a meadow or grassy land near a house or settlement
blasty boughs: spruce or fir branches, dead and dry but with the needles still adhering, used as kindling
brishney: a small bundle of dry sticks or boughs gathered for fuel
crunnicks: old twisted dead trees, with bark all gone, weathered and turned white; dry crooked sticks of such trees
droke: a valley with steep sides, wooded and with a stream
dwy: a short snow flurry
faffering: of the wind, blowing with cold, chilly gusts
glitter storm: coating of ice on trees by freezing rain
goowiddy: sheep laurel; shrubby vegetation of a barren-like site
hoppy wood: firewood which burns noisily, emitting sparks
ice-candle: icicle
lolly: soft ice forming in water; loose ice or snow floating in water
mawzy: of weather, damp, warm, foggy, muggy, a little rain maybe
pinch: a short, steep, difficult part of a hill; high point of the path
rattling brook: a stream marked by rapids or a waterfall
rub: a barely discernible passage through dense woods not used long or often enough to be a path
sish over: of the surface of a body of water, to form a thin layer of ice
snapperin’ bough: a dead conifer branch which has turned red
sprinkles: needles of spruce or fir
starrigan: an old gnarled, twisted evergreen tree
tolt: a hilly promontory
tuckamore: a small stunted evergreen tree
yaffle: an armful

Sites of Conjunction and Experience
Within the 5 acres of my property there is a multitude of microhabitats: dark spruce and fir woods; an arid, windblown tolt with goowiddy and tuckamore; a rattling brook called the Blast Hole Pond River, which flows through a steep droke; an old bawn overgrown with wildflowers; and moss-covered volcanic rock up to 1,000 million years old. Each has a very different dynamic, resulting in different details of observation and experience. These experiences are grounded and marked by a specific location, as all experiences may be.

Marlene Creates, 2005

Two live-art films on this work are available.

A publication on this work is available:
The Boreal Poetry Garden