Bathing in the Poetry of the Forest

Whitehorse resident Clea Roberts is achieving national and international success with her 2010 book of poetry Here Is Where We Disembark.

Roberts spent 10 years writing the poems and sent the manuscript out to publishers only after she felt the poems were ready as a collection.

The subject matter of the first section of the book is life in the Yukon and northern B.C.

When asked about her relationship to nature and to the North specifically, Roberts mentions her appreciation and affinity for “Shinrin-yoku” or Japanese forest bathing, where one spends a short, leisurely time walking through the forest, breathing in and benefiting from the subtle natural aromas of the trees, emerging refreshed and rejuvenated.

“It has also taught me a lot about discipline and gratitude, particularly living in the North, where our winters are so extreme and our wilderness is so vast,” she says.

The Reader’s Guide to Disembark (commonly included in novels for book clubs to use, but rarely with books of poetry) was released this past December. In it, she affirms her connection to the natural world: “I’ve always been interested in the bridges between the natural and the human-made worlds. There is a dynamic force in our relationship with nature that intrigues me. Nature simultaneously ‘contains and expels us,’ as the poet Christian Wiman said. This shifting intimacy is a rich source for my poetry.”

The second section of Here Is Where We Disembark concentrates on the women of the Klondike Gold Rush.

As part of her research for the Klondike poems, Roberts spent a lot of time reading personal letters at the Yukon Archives.

“Having this connection with the women I was writing about, whether they were real or fictional women, helped me to bring more of myself into the poems,” she says.

Currently, Roberts is adapting her poem “Cathedral” to film. Shifting artistic medium from the written word to visual images is proving both challenging and a natural fit.

“It’s good and a little frightening to be a beginner again,” Roberts says. “And it is good to find new ways of looking at things, new ways of articulating the essence of a poem. Film and poetry are very compatible because they both use images and sound. But at the same time, film is a completely different creature from poetry — it has its own unique language that operates on a completely different set of rules.”

In March, Roberts is planning a book tour of the eastern provinces. In September 2013, German publisher Edition Rugerup will release a German translation of the book.

Here Is Where We Disembark, published by Freehand Press, was a finalist for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for the best first book of poetry in Canada.


by Clea Roberts

And that is what we almost believed in

that winter, we almost believed

in heaven and all its permutations

as you fiddled dog biscuit, house key—

the artifacts of the known world

in your pocket

and I walked beside you,

breathless, arms swinging

the baby in the pulk

shushing behind me,

the sad and the angry and the peaceful

rooms inside the decisions we’d made,

and the poplars so remarkable

in their thin, white gowns,

while the prints of all the creatures

crossed paths at their feet.

From Here Is Where We Disembark

Copyright © by Clea Roberts. Reprinted by permission of Freehand Books.

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