Author Archives: Jenna Butler & Yvonne Blomer

About Jenna Butler & Yvonne Blomer

Jenna Butler is an Albertan poet, essayist, editor, and professor. She is the author of six books and the recipient of several national arts awards, including a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award, three Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Awards, and a recent longlisting for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Internationally, her work has been shortlisted for the Salt and Bridport Prizes (UK), and the High Plains Book Awards and Foreword INDIE Awards (USA). As a board editor for NeWest Press, she has edited over thirty books of poetry and fiction in Canada. A woman of colour interested in multiethnic narratives of place, Butler teaches creative and environmental writing at Red Deer College and runs an off-grid organic farm.

Yvonne Blomer is an award-winning poet and the author of the travel memoir Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur, and three books of poetry. She is also an editor, teacher, and mentor in poetry and memoir. Yvonne served as the city of Victoria’s poet laureate from 2015-2018. In 2018, she curated and created a show of environmental ekphrastic poems in response to Robert Bateman’s art, the result of which is the collection Ravine, Mouse a Bird’s Beak (Nose in Book Publishing, 2018). In 2017, Yvonne edited the anthology Refugium: Poems for the Pacific (Caitlin Press), with poets responding to their connection to the Pacific from the west coast of North America, and as far away as Japan and New Zealand. Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds is the second in a trilogy of poetry anthologies with a focus on water. With thanks to the BC Arts Council for financial support to work in Assisi, Italy.

Email: Covid-19

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Email: Covid-19


Since our co-written piece was published in Understorey Magazine last fall, we have continued to email and chat online and with each other via video technology, which freezes constantly, to keep expanding our project “Field Notes: Desire Paths, Women, Land and Body.” With the incredible world-shifts due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, our conversations have also shifted. In these excerpted emails, we discuss where we were a mere eight months ago–Assisi, Italy–and where we are now. We edit a new piece, so comments go back and forth in relation to it. We marvel at how life in a pandemic is very much all Field Notes, desires, and desire paths held while we keep ourselves and each other safe, and worry about friends and family nesting all over the world, or out fighting for others’ safety and health.


Excerpted emails

From: Jenna Butler
Sent: March 14, 2020 12:31 PM
To: Yvonne Blomer
Subject: And with intro

Hey you,

I am super behind and incredibly sorry.

How are you guys holding up, first and foremost? Are you on Spring Break now, and safe at home with the boys until the schools decide what they’re going to do?

We worry about whether coronavirus will come to campus, and we’re all waiting to see what the college will do. So far, it hasn’t said it will close its doors, but we’ve been allowed to move our courses online. Most of us have been doing that this week, trying to rewrite the final four weeks of class so we can teach from Blackboard and e-mail and still get our students through to graduation.

I’m at home sick, thinking it is just a cold, watching the coronavirus count, but also trying to watch lighter things on Netflix when I can, and planning the garden for the farm this summer. Extra rows of potatoes and carrots and beets for the Food Bank. Extra flowers to help lift spirits because this is going to be a brutal year, whichever way you slice it.

I owe you one more ghazal, I think, in this piece. What do you think of the intro? Longer?

Hope your heart is doing okay through all this, my friend. What a crazy week.



From: Yvonne Blomer
Sent: March 25, 2020 4:07 PM
To: Jenna Butler
Subject: RE: And with intro

Hi Jenna

I’m only properly reading this now because I’m only really getting back into my studio now. Yikes to maybe having Covid-19 on campus, but of course, I’m pretty sure it is everywhere, and that we should multiply our numbers by 22 or something. I read that somewhere yesterday.

We are, yes, home. Colwyn’s last day was Wednesday, as I pulled him for Thursday and Friday (staying slightly ahead of the curve, I pulled him from Spring Break camp yesterday, and they emailed last night to cancel it, which I thought was a bit slow on the uptake, but whatever).  Spring Break is on for two weeks, and we are on hold. Rupert was told (but after he left school) to bring his school computer home in case they were on a longer break … he didn’t because he got the email Saturday, but he can pop back if he needs it.

Scary that you have a cold. I have a mild chest cough!!! Which has caused me no end of worry, though no other signs of a cold, a few sniffles, and seriously, I’ve been self-isolating since finishing being Poet Laureate in 2018, so I think I’m ok. That’s a bit of light humour, which many are not getting these days. No surprise there.

Yes, we put in a big seed order this week. I love your plans for extras for food banks and flowers. So lovely. It’s pretty uncertain. I was thinking … we should write on this, too. There was a great interview piece between two women writers talking to each other posted to FB, but I can’t find it now. (The two women are Patricia Robertson and Joan Thomas at

Anyway, I’m going to run in and see if Colwyn is awake—he’s not been able to fall asleep at night, so is napping now. Then I’ll eat and come back to you for 10 my time.

Hugs and love and hang in there.
xo y


From: Jenna Butler
Sent: March 24, 2020 11:27 PM
To: Yvonne Blomer
Subject: Re: Most recent

I’m sending this essay back to you, my friend. I know we’ve been working on this since before the pandemic started, but for my last entry, I’ve added a piece to the end that’s a bit less lyric and more functional about all we’re living with now. There’s a tonal shift, for sure, and a rapid one, but maybe it works? After all, the pandemic was declared just as suddenly.



From: Yvonne Blomer
Sent: March 26, 2020 4:31 AM
To: Jenna Butler
Subject: RE: Re most recent


This is lovely. I will have more to say tomorrow, pondering if the dates can show enough the shift in thinking from women out in the world to women nestled in due to the big changes … am giving a bit of my evening to iced rum and editing “Death of Persephone” (we’ve run out of wine!).

It’s all so very surreal in my mind tonight. I chatted with my dad, and he just can hardly believe it. Can recall his parents talking about WWII in the way he’s feeling about this now. Pretty crazy. We were out and about a bit today–I hand delivered Sweet Water to a few locals, and then a walk at Thetis Lake. Also a stop at the post office, which was my first time in a place or business in over a week … how easily the nerves nerve up.

Hope you are beginning to feel better. My cough is back, but I talked a lot today, gabba gabba gabba!

Colwyn did piano lesson with his teacher on FaceTime, so cool. We should try FaceTime; it may be more user friendly–less freezy than Messenger.

xoxo Yvonne


From: Jenna Butler
Sent: March 27, 2020 3:36 PM
To: Yvonne Blomer
Subject: Re: most recent

Hey you,

Yeah, I was trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between life and then, suddenly, coronavirus! When I’d started my piece, it wasn’t really an issue, and then the curve suddenly blew up like crazy! I don’t know whether that jump in focus is distracting or reflects how the pandemic blossomed so quickly. What do you think?

I’m so glad you’re working on “Persephone” and fighting for the time and space to do that. The pieces already published from the manuscript are incredible! I cannot WAIT for this book.

I went from having a book coming out in June to having a closed publisher and a delay until at least the fall … and a request to add to the book! So now I’m writing about beekeeping and farming during a pandemic. Feeding community, feeding spirit. It’s a lot, but I’m grateful every day for the farm and its potential to feed our friends this summer. We’re planning the biggest garden we’ve ever planted. I know you know how good that soil work is for the heart. Healing stuff.

We’ve been pretty house-bound, just going out to forage plant medicines or get some sun. I’m teaching online until the middle of June (end of winter term, then spring), and very grateful for the work, even though I don’t know what the next year will look like. We’ll move out to the farm full-time in a few weeks and get the garden started, then slowly empty the house and settle in at Larch Grove for the summer. If we can, we’ll rent our little investment house in RD to one of my colleagues at work. If I have to teach online next year, I can do that from Larch Grove. I think it’s going to be very important to be on top of all the wild harvests on the land this year, as well as what the garden offers. People are going to need that food.

I’m super glad that Colwyn can keep up with piano lessons and routine during this crazy time! How has he been adjusting? How have you all? YES to FaceTime. Maybe it will give us a clearer picture and not all the weird pauses in the conversation.

Hope you’re hanging in there, Y. It seems crazy to think that we were wandering carefree around Italy eight short months ago, and now there’s all this death crushing that beautiful country. Last summer seems as though it existed on a different, blessed plane…

J xo


From: Yvonne Blomer
Sent: March 31, 2020 9:50 PM
To: Jenna Butler
Subject: RE: Re most recent

Our conversation felt strange … I hope all is ok. I think the tech and the phone dying and etc. was making it more awkward. I hope it was only that and you are feeling ok. Of course, if we are awkward, that is ok, too. These times seem to allow for anything, don’t they?

I’m aware of how easy we have it … not addicted to any drugs, not on the street, healthy, job security for at least part of our families, etc. It is horrific to imagine Italy. It is impossible to imagine how people in parts of Asia, India, Africa, and in refugee camps are living.

Still … there are many ways to struggle, and I accept that this is a struggle for all of us.

Sending love and hugs,
xo Y


From: Jenna Butler
Sent: March 31, 2020 10:20 PM
To: Yvonne Blomer
Subject: Re: most recent

Hey you,

Just a quick note as I come off the treadmill to say noooo, I’m not uncomfortable with you AT ALL, and I hope I didn’t come across as if I was! I’m just reading too much news, as we all are, and worrying for loved ones, as we all are.

We are very boxed in here in Alberta, really home-bound by a government hell-bent on wrecking the province in its care, and by the weather, and perhaps it’s just that, too … wanting to be out, wanting space, but having so little access to it. I won’t take safe movement for granted ever again. Thank goodness T and I are good friends and great supports for one another. And the cats! Thank god for the pets!

Yes, we are so, so lucky here in the West, but you’re right that we’re all struggling in our own ways with this pandemic. Keepin’ on sending you guys so much love through these rough days.



From: Yvonne Blomer
Sent: March 31, 2020 11:30 pm
To: Jenna Butler
Subject: RE: Re most recent


Love back at ya. I came in and read my book, and then we watched the news. Bah.

Love and hugs. Maybe bundle up and sit in the sun for a bit if you can tomorrow. Well done on the treadmill.

Xo y


From: Yvonne Blomer
Sent: April 16, 2020 10:44 AM
To: Jenna Butler
Subject: Desire and Longing


I just put on my denim dress I wore so much on our summer travels and have become overcome with a big longing and lump in my throat for that time and all this change.

Love you.


From: Jenna Butler
Sent: April 16, 2020 2:30 pm
To: Yvonne Blomer
Subject: Re: Desire and Longing

Awwww, my heart! That brings back such wonderful memories of our time last summer–freedom and ease and discovery. It feels like half a lifetime ago, and it feels like yesterday, too.

Love you right back.

Email: Covid-19

By .


Since our co-written piece was published in Understorey Magazine last fall, we have continued to email and chat online and with each other via video technology, which freezes constantly, to keep expanding our project “Field Notes: Desire Paths, Women, Land and Body.” With the incredible world-shifts due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, our conversations have also shifted. In these excerpted emails, we discuss where we were a mere eight months ago–Assisi, Italy–and where we are now. We edit a new piece, so comments go back and forth in relation to it. We marvel at how life in a pandemic is very much all Field Notes, desires, and desire paths held while we keep ourselves and each other safe, and worry about friends and family nesting all over the world, or out fighting for others’ safety and health.

Continue Reading Email: Covid-19

Field Notes on Desire Paths

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Co-written Poem:

Ghazal 1

If we could trace the paths of airplanes,
carbon emissions etching the blue.

What surfaces in the body: PCBs, exhaust.
Glyphosate wilting the bellows of our lungs.

We move through it all: 18th-century smog,
21st-century extinction. We walk the path, a benediction.

Walking and the way it heals. Camino,
the body coming home to the land.

And what the land wants? Sweet rain.
Moonlight. Pull of gravity on core, on seed.


I Come Home to Another Season (Barrhead, Alberta)

Jenna Butler

We went overseas in the generous light of July—solstice just barely past, days in my northern Alberta home lingering long and rich through to midnight. The darkness never truly darkness, but an ombré of sorts, black shot through with peacock or plum, the satsuma curve of sun. Now, home again but with the old rose stone of Assisi behind my eyes, I find everything changed.

How fast the daylight slips when it’s made up its mind to go.

Incremental thefts: balsam poplar headed with gold at the start of August, the willows running ragged and wild. Crowberries picked over by bears, and in the morning, the pond a black mirror under a thicket of mist. Late summer has given us the slip, has passed us over, along with the sandhill cranes creaking their way south like the slow unfolding of windmills.

They say the boreal will not survive the coming years, the warmth of the south marching its way northward. Already, I see the needles of the muskeg spruce gone burnt with too much water, these endless summer rains. When I cut willow for tea, for the bitter painkiller in its white inner bark, I can’t help but notice how much of the tree has given itself up to rust, its leaves an unkempt spackle. I am not from this place, but the boreal has been my home almost all of my life. This great sweep of forest, so generous with its gifts, is drowning, its roots submerged in the peat. And it’s burning, overburden of brush easy prey for a careless cigarette. Everything is out of balance, tipping wildly.

In the never-come summer
In the rising marsh
In the floodwater river
In the winters harsh
In the sunless months
In the still-green grain
In the hay-bloated cattle
In the endless rain
In the land-keepers robbed of
The place of their birth
In the boreal flooding
A dirge for the Earth.

The forest teaches me again and again that I don’t know much. It’s a lesson that makes me want to learn more, to try to fill the gaps, but one that also stresses humility: as much as I can learn, there will be more and more that I still don’t know. The boreal teaches on a daily basis about letting go of pride and staying open. It inspires a fierce love for these great green lungs.

I don’t know if this deep connection to land is one reserved for women; in fact, that’s something I fight with, the idea that women have to be innately nurturing, to have some inborn connection to the land. Many of the male farmers around me are devoted stewards of the places they’ve grown up in, and even as they know them by heart, they are aware that these places are being reconfigured by climate change. So perhaps the humility isn’t uniquely female, but the concept of being a land custodian, or, let’s face it, in North America, a land “owner” (as a coloured woman, no less!) is fraught. It’s very, very complicated. I care for this land with all I have in me and make the best decisions I can to keep it safe … but at the end of the day, this continent is rightfully the home territories of the Indigenous peoples, and my name is there alongside my husband’s on the deed to this quarter. Ownership is deeply problematic for me. That’s what I was getting at earlier, in the reference above to being a coloured woman. Fifty, a hundred years ago, I and others like me would have been considered property. We wouldn’t have been able to hold title to land, much less our own agency. And here I am, running this much-loved farm and holding a piece of land that is part of someone else’s history.

Here I am, having travelled home at a time when the boreal I love cannot stand much more by way of temperature change caused by emissions.

Coming home is always welcome, but it’s so tangled, too.


Art by Jackie Partidge showing a tree patched with a paper map.

Patched by Jackie Partridge

Spiders and Rain (Vancouver Island, B.C.)

Yvonne Blomer

The season here begins to shift as cool damp inhabits the late summer night. Some might say Victoria always carries that rainforest touch, but summers are getting hotter and drier, and even in the winter last year, I barely recall wet days.

Tonight, cool air shivers through the house, setting the spider’s webs, newly formed in every corner, quivering. Thieves steal into the garden, creep across vegetable beds and dewy lawn, overripe fruit and trees made bare. Bandits’ clawed feet leave evidence in loose soil. Later, sentinels return what has been taken—nibbled fig on the lawn, web across the laundry line, and a siren’s wail echoing across the city. Sheltered here, I am under Garry Oak, under cloud and damp, I am waiting for the sun, catching it the way beach glass does in a green glimmer. In a way, I welcome these furred bandits. Why take more rights than I’ve already taken to ground and trees and what grows despite my watering or my neglect.

What scientists say of the Boreal, they say of the Ocean. Great Pacific with its dying fish and dying orcas, starving nursing mothers and death up and down the oceanic food chain. Heat and acidity. And the vanishing sea birds.

My footprints follow my own earlier footprints through tidal dunes. If only this were our mark on the land: a footprint that vanishes, washes away, with the coming tide. Out and out, the water still only up to my shins. Long-leafed seaweed rushes in, forms islands my son swims through, his hands walking the sand: laughing human-crab hybrid.

Small fish. Blue,
blue as sorrow too and
iridescent-winged, slate-
blue August sky, clear blue.
Blue with the edges
cut away for a mountain.
Mountain cut away for a
thinning glacier. Blue
blue as a river, blue
as doubt which is also
a river. Blue. Evening’s
slow sigh of blue and
night’s clear night of it.

Recently, a long flight from Venice to London to Calgary and a drive home. Jenna north to the boreal and me west to the coast. After Italy’s protracted human footprint where change occurs on already changed land, I find the widening of the highway through the Rockies an offence.

We have been contemplating Desire Paths in Italy, and what is path but someone’s footprint creating a route through. I am no longer sure I can keep putting my feet down. But how often women have hidden their path-making from the world, all we know of some is the signature “Anon.”

And so, I hold two beliefs, as we all do here in the Anthropocene: I have a child, though I believe the population of humans should go down. I travel, have travelled, though I fear this travel is one of the worst things we can do. I buy toilet paper and take the offered toothbrush from the dentist. I try to make a name for myself and know this too is a way to mark a path. Perhaps this path is “preferential,” the way rainwater creates paths in limestone, or I set footprints in sand. Perhaps I should desire an interior path only, or move toward a more quiet, un-re-mark-able way.


Co-written Poems:

Ghazal 2

Sky scoured by heat haze,
fields seared August gold.

Wind silences cicadas. Rain
tamps yellow down. Grey fast coming green.

The scent of jasmine like longing or memory.
Pilgrimage, too, a desire path.

Desire—Italian couples reach toward each other;
paths lead in and out. What is desire but a long road,

the path that took us here—that circles us back,
changed … all we hold and let fall.


Ghazal 3

Italy rattling its desiccated lungs.
At home, the boreal exhales flame.

Here, no news of B.C. fires. Wonder
and bright days. Only rain clouds fast coming in.

The planes outnumber the clouds.
To Paris, New York—the sky a bronze band.

Lone drone stalls flight. What if—
I wonder. How travel these fraught paths?

How to travel these fraught paths? A poem
on our lips. A kind of prayer.