poet Stephanie Bolster told the 100 or so people who gathered to hear
her read from her work that she was disappointed to be reading to them.
This room is so beautiful, she said, referring to Dawson Colleges
domed reception hall. Id like to sit and look out the windows.
To those familiar with Bolsters work, the remark made perfect sense.
Bolsters tendency to observe and turn what she sees into remarkable
poetry is part of what makes her one of Canadas most exciting young
Her poems are like origami you can play with, friend and fellow
poet Carmine Starnino recently said. She takes an inert idea and
folds it up into something that is alive and active. She does something
extraordinary with it.
With two collections of poetry, internationally published poems and several
major literary prizes behind her, the 31-year-old British Columbia native
is certainly doing something extraordinary. As a new Assistant Professor
of Creative Writing in Concordias English Department, she is now
sharing her talents with students.
Michael Harris was the editor for White Stone: The Alice Poems,
which won Bolster (and her publishers, Véhicule Press) the1998
Governor-Generals Award. By nature, shes affable and
communicative. I suspect its a very worthwhile workshop, said
Harris, who also teaches Creative Writing at Concordia.
Ben Kalman, one of Bolsters undergraduate students, agreed. Shes
inspiring, and she encourages us, and loosens up a lot of students,
he said. Her comments on my work have been very helpful.
In turn, teaching has been helpful to Bolster. Its made my
life feel whole in a way that it hasnt felt in a while, she
said in a recent interview.
Bolster arrived in Montreal after a four-year stint in Ottawa, where she
taught and worked as an editor at the National Gallery. Her published
work is often rooted in a strong sense of place, and the move east from
her native Vancouver has meant a shift in her writing. Her earlier connection
to nature, coming from a normal human pace moving through the landscape,
has been replaced by concern for interiors and art.
Despite this shift, Bolster said she will likely keep returning to certain
images and subjects. Boundaries, which was part of what drew me
to the Alice books, this whole idea of crossing into another world, interests
me, she said, referring to Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland,
the inspiration behind White Stone.
A central boundary that caught Bolsters imagination was the one
between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson. Dodgson, who rose to fame as
Lewis Carroll, met Liddell, the real Alice behind the fictional one, when
she was a young girl.
There has been much speculation on the appropriateness of Dodgsons
closeness to the young Liddell, and when Harris first read Bolsters
manuscript, he was struck by her understanding of the tension between
Dodgson and Liddell as a window through which to look at an enormous variety
What was important about Stephanies book was that shed
developed Alice as a metaphor for her own way of addressing the world,
Harris said. Alice, in short, became the camera through which she
looked at the world.
Bolster, who wrote the Alice poems as part of her MFA in Creative Writing
at UBC, has moved on to new cameras, such as Japanese aesthetics and culture.
She has also replaced the tight lyric poems of her earlier work with a
longer, looser form. I can put things in instead of take things
out, she said. It feels more like a container than something
sculpted down to the bare bones.
Teaching has not slowed her down. Having the time constraints has
made me more productive. I value and use time in a better way, she
said. Also, I have such talented students. Its inspiring and
humbling to be working with their manuscripts.