These are some notes recorded during my residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Writing Studio, which occurred from April 30th to June 3rd 2017.
Day 1: April 30 2017
I arrived to Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity having slept only 4 hours the previous night.
Upon arriving to Calgary, there was another hour and half drive to Banff. Add to that a small two hour difference with Montreal, and here I am: tired, but excited.
On my way to Banff, then this:
I settled into my room in the PDC building. Most of the writers were given rooms in the infamous “renovation-in-progress” Lloyd Hall building.
I got my artist card, which is my pass to various places and (more importantly) my food voucher.
Day 2: May 1, 2017
On day 2, I discovered the Vista Dining Room: one of the best views in the world to have breakfast.
You’re looking out at the Rockies while sipping coffee and interacting with various artists.
At 10 am, we had our orientation and met everyone.
There were intros from Meghan Power, the Program Coordinator, as well as Greg Hollingshead, the Program Director. We then headed off for a tour of the facilities.
The Banff Centre is immense and breathtaking, and modern (for the most part).
We visited the Walter Philips Gallery, the beautiful Paul D. Fleck Library & Archives, the charming looking Music Huts (which are out back in the forest and open to writers), the Music & Sound Building and the Shaw Amphitheatre.
Now, on to find a tranquil place to write, edit, and contemplate…
Day 3: May 2, 2017
I found the perfect writing spot: the library: views to die for + quietness.
Banff is often abuzz with various events and people, so it’s nice to escape from it all.
Not to mention all the art & poetry books at your fingertips…
In the afternoon, I ventured out back to find my reserved writing Hut #27 (aka Music Hut, which writers are allowed to reserve).
They’re interspersed in the forest north west of the PDC and look like tiny house.
Upon entering the hut…
The minuscule windows were covered with drapes that were locked into place and the tiny space stank of old carpets.
Most have a grand piano inside.
In the evening, I went to the first of many Writing Studio Public Readings held in the Bentley Chamber Music Studio.
Adèle Barclay and Tess Liem read their poems like pros. We also heard from fiction participants.
During the day, we’re all off on our solo writing ventures, so it’s nice to hear what each of us is working on.
The best part: they’re open to the Centre. So if painters, musicians, or mathematicians want to join, they’re more than welcome.
The event was followed by snacks and drinks in the MacLab.
Day 4: May 3, 2017
The air here is very dry, not to mention quite low on oxygen–your skin and lungs will speak. It’s not surprising, we’re at almost 1400m.
At 1pm, I had my first meeting with Colette Bryce, poet and faculty at this Writing Studio.
Colette has an incredible Irish sense of humour. We met in the Library Reading Room and chatted about my long poem inspired by Klimt’s Ceiling Paintings.
Talking to her got me thinking about form, vocabulary, and audience. Who is this for? She asked.
She also got me thinking about ekphrasticism: it’s nature & external perception.
Speaking of venturing out into town… Google maps will say it’s a 22 minute walk, but that’s only if you take the long road.
It’s actually a 5 minute walk if you take this little passage into the woods, next to a cemetery.
You will pass through dreamy residential homes and end up on the main Banff Street in no time.
Also: street names here …
Not to mention their garbages: “push the inner handle and lift”.
It’s all bear proof around here. And for a reason.
The first thing that you’ll notice about Banff is its views. Oh, and it’s multiple animals.
You will quickly sense you’re inside their habitat; not the other way around. And you’ll have to give them space, because they certainly won’t.
Wildlife here comes in very close contact to humanlife. It’s magical.
“Bear spray,” I overheard a waitress mention it to someone asking about a hike.
I’ll have to venture into town and purchase one.
Another thing about the Centre: it’s a peculiar mixology of Business and the Arts.
One conference in particular caught my eye and engulfed the Centre for about three days: The Petroleum Safety Conference.
Poetry + Petroleum Safety. Because why not.
If this Centre exists it’s partly because of the funding from various individual as well as corporate donors.
Day 5: May 4, 2017
A fun place at the Centre is the MacLab Bistro. It’s a bright and large café/bar/bistro that is open until 2am.
This is where the writers (and other artists) meet and grab a drink or two.
The weather has been nice these past few days so I’ve been able to write outside on the terrace (a favorite spot of mine).
Day 6: May 5, 2017
I attended a tour of the exhibition Everything I Say Is True at the Eric Harvie Theatre with exhibition curator, Jacqueline Bell.
Here is a little bit about the exhibit, taken from the Banff website:
“Everything I Say Is True is a solo exhibition by Southern California-based, Oglala Lakota artist Kite, aka Suzanne Kite. In the exhibition Kite constructs a complex narrative through the use of her own family’s ephemera and historical documents as well as through a new body of work in various mediums, including video, sound and sculpture. Everything I Say Is True considers concepts of truth in relation to Oglala Lakota knowledge systems.”
News: all the participants in the Writing Studio will be allowed to move to the PDC building.
Let the new chapter begin. And let’s close the old (noisy) one…
Spring in Banff
Spring in Banff is all crisp mountain air meets t-shirt meets snow covered paths.
The key is to layer and to pack a little bit of everything: short sleeves, warm sweaters, flip flops, and winter boots. And don’t forget the raincoat + boots.
It really is that yo-yo.
One thing is certain: there is lots of sunshine and sunlight until 9.45pm.
For supper, I ventured into town and stumbled into the Park Distillery Restaurant + Bar, where I ordered trout from the Bow River, which they serve grilled with a side of mashed potatoes and vegetables.
I also had their 1A White by Road 13, Oakangan Valley, BC wine (that title, I know). It was delicious + dry.
The Fudgery on Banff Street. My favourite: the Snail: pecan and caramel covered in chocolate…
Back at the Centre, these guys keep popping up.
Also: I often stumble upon impressive art inside the Kinnear building, such as this one by Janice Tanton.
Day 7: May 6, 2017
It’s a rainy morning:
I started by taking a walk amidst the houses. The houses are as varied as the weather. Some are tiny, others voluptuous.
Here are some of the more quaint places:
For lunch, I discovered Block Restaurant on Caribou Street.
I recommend the crispy chicken sandwich.
I also stumbled upon this lovely gingko and ink paperie.
I spent some time browsing and purchased more than the single card I came in for.
Nicola, the owner, will be happy to chat with you. She also offers book binding ateliers…
Time to purchase some bear spray.
When I asked for the spray at the general hiking store, I was presented with two options: “a regular one,” and “a more powerful one”. What’s the difference, I asked the guy at the cash. Well, I recommend the more powerful one. Also, if you’re camping and it’s happening at night, the powerful one has a glow-in-the-dark cap.
The price? 44.99$ for the regular one, and 49.99$ for the powerful, glow-in-the-dark one.
I didn’t want my survival to depend upon the 5$ I didn’t pay.
As soon as you purchase it, you have to sign a “Notice to Purchaser of Bear Aware Plus”. It’s to prevent people from using it as a weapon against other humans (you know, during divorces and such). It also informs you that the spray should be used as a last resort (of course).
Ladies and gentleman, I’m now the proud owner of Bear Beware Plus:
Back at the Centre, we decided to have some drinks and play cards at the MacLab.
It’s Saturday, after all.
Day 8: May 7, 2017:
It’s a lazy, cloudy, and cold Sunday, which means one thing: laundry in the basement of Llyod Hall.
Word of advice from some folks: buy your own detergent. Apparently, the one they have is a bit rough on fabric.
Also, you can purchase Protex Condoms next to Soap Bleach Softeners…
Happy laundrying to you all!
After laundry, the clouds started clearing up and I decided to go for a walk along the Bow River.
I noticed dead trees and decided to fashion a black & white series. Their textures are impressive; they’re artworks without knowing it.
Here are some of the shots:
Later in the evening, I had my first meeting with Karen Solie.
While we spoke about many things, and while her eyes were scanning my poems, the sky showed-off funky shapes with the help of sun rays. We spent a moment just staring at the swell manifestation in front of us.
Day 9: May 8, 2017
This morning, we had our first Group Introductory Relaxation and Voice Session with Dale Genge.
Dale is amazing. And the session was… breathtaking.
We started off by sitting in a circle and exposing our deepest, darkest public reading selves.
She asked us to seek “confidence as opposed to control” over our voice. I love that.
We then did some exercises with a small ball under our foot, while we inhaled and exhaled.
She later asked us: where do words come from when you write?
Reminding us: on the one hand, words are but font on a page; on the other, they live inside the entire body.
I very much look forward to working with her again.
In the afternoon, I focused on some writing & editing. Not bad when your view is this:
I then decided to view the exhibit Yesterday was Once Tomorrow (Or, a Brick is a Tool) presented in the Walter Phillips Gallery, Satellite Space and curated by Kegan McFadden.
“Yesterday was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick is a Tool) is a timely re-visitation of artists’ magazines from the 1990s, allowing many of its key players to take centre stage through the presentation of both original artworks and the reproductions of artist’s graphics.”
“Originally produced for Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art (Winnipeg) and Artexte (Montreal), the reprisal of Yesterday was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick is a Tool) sees the added inclusion of Talking Stick First Nations Arts Magazine, which will act as a touchstone during the upcoming writing residencies this spring, including Indigenous Art Journal and Future Narratives.”
Day 10: May 9, 2017
In the morning, I went to my first group session with our voice coach, Dale.
The atelier allowed us to view breathing as a physical, fluid, and spacial experience.
It reminded us to be conscious of our entire body; its existence from the back, and not simply the front.
In the afternoon, I wrote at Evelyn’s cafe in town. What a lovely, quaint little spot.
Twas a windy day…
At 4pm, I attended the Visual Art Lecture Series with Bopha Chhay.
She is Director/Curator at Artspeak, an art centre in Vancouver, and has also been involved in publishing and critical writing.
Here is a little bit more about her:
“Bopha Chhay is a writer and curator based in Vancouver. She is co-founder of livedspace, a research and publishing organization. She has held positions at Enjoy Public Art Gallery (New Zealand), Afterall (Contemporary arts research and publishing) Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design (UK), 221A Artist run centre (Vancouver) Curatorial assistant at Charles H. Scott Gallery (Vancouver) at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and currently holds the position of Director/Curator at Artspeak (Vancouver). She provides editorial support for Bartleby Review and is one of the co-editors of a new publication Charcuterie launched in September 2016.”
Some artwork in the JPL building, where the lecture was held:
Day 11: May 10, 2017
This morning, I wrote in the library and then went out to town for lunch. There, while reading the local paper, a story from 2005 caught my attention… (see this from the CBC).
I also heard a couple of other jaw-dropping stories while at supper with Dale.
Bear stories abound in Alberta. Everyone who lives here seems to have one (or ten).
Speaking of them, after lunch I found this hipster cafe and started flipping through Canadian rockies magazine (what else), when this:
At 2.30pm, I had my one-on-one with Dale, my voice coach. She’s really like my life coach.
Dale is incredibly in-tune and can see right through you.
We worked on the poems I would read that evening.
My takeaway from our meeting: the need to embody the images I am reading, rather than to read words from a page. And that makes all the difference.
At 6.45pm, I headed out to the Music & Sound Building for soundcheck. My public reading was scheduled for 7.30pm.
The house was packed. I had a blast reading with and for my colleagues and the various other guests (among which visual art peeps). I even saw Bopha, who congratulated me on my reading.
For the first time in my reading history, I decided to project images–of photographs, sketches, and paintings–that have inspired my poems.
Also: the Writing Studio created a swell programme to distribute to all:
After the reading, we all headed to MacLab for drinks, as per usual.
I’m so proud of these humans and the lasting friendships we’re forging at the Centre.
Day 12: May 11, 2017
Tonight, we had the Artist Bonfire; which is just a bunch of artists getting together, chatting, eating hot dogs & s’mores around a fire.
I had a lovely time getting to know some of the visual artists and costume creators currently on campus.
We lingered late into the evening and watched the sun set behind the mountains.
Day 13: May 12, 2017
I picked out these two from the library.
Babstock is all bricks meet pawns and collision.
I ended the night by heading out to the pool for a swim.
Something about those enormous windows opening out into the mountains and sky makes for a swell evening.
Day 14: May 13, 2017
Today will be laundry day, probably because I’m out of jeans.
Here’s a little poem I wrote to commemorate this moment, while waiting in the laundry room:
so much depends
a gray sock
on a green-ish bulletin board
in the basement
of Lloyd Hall.
In the afternoon, we were invited to poet Stuart Ian McKay’s studio in the Leighton Colony.
Stuart read his poems and talked about his craft, while we lounged around his space.
Apparently some famous faces created in these studio. Rumour has it that Yann Martel wrote Life of Pie in the boat.
Here is a little bit more about the Leighton studios, as taken from the Banff website:
“The eight original studios were each named for the distinguished Canadian architects who designed them, including: Douglas Cardinal, Ian Davidson, Michael Evamy, Peter Hemingway, Richard Henriquez, Guy Gerin-Lajoie, Ron Thom, and Fred Valentine. In 2009, the addition of the Painter House expanded the capacity of the studios to offer a place for a group of artists to engage in a retreat for collaborative work.
Writers may prefer the Hemingway, Henriquez, or Evamy studios. Composers may prefer the Valentine, Davidson, or Cardinal studios. Visual Artists may prefer the Thom or Gerin-Lajoie studios. Collaborative groups are invited to apply for residencies in the Painter House.
Some famous alumni of the Studios include: Daniel MacIvor, John Adams, Ken Lum, Jonathan Dove, Yann Martel, k.d. Lang, and Joni Mitchell.”
These studios are beautiful on the inside & out.
They’re secluded in a forest, which makes for quiet, isolated spaces.
Here is Stuart’s Davidson studio:
I bought Stuart’s book and had it signed.
The fun part about being surrounded by other artists: they sometimes recommend books to you based on your reading.
Visual artist, Mark Diecy, recommended the following book to me. I was moved.
It’s in the library. I’ll have to check it out.
Day 15: May 14, 2017
Today was Lake Louise day.
We left early in the morning and spent a good chunk of the day there.
The first thing we did was hike. More like walk around the lake (it took us two hours, there and back).
What you’ll notice going there: it’s Winter. With a big W.
The weather is colder, snow is still very much present, and a mini-snowstorm can appear out of nowhere (as it did).
The ice was thin, so we couldn’t walk across the lake.
People cross country ski on the lake in the winter. I’ll have to come back and try it.
Then this magnificence:
The views were, once again, grandiose.
We also ended up picnicking on the rocks in front of this lovely little creek at the very back of the lake.
The one thing that could stop us from going further, an avalanche warning:
Day 16: May 15, 2017
Out-of-this-world moments occur here.
This morning, we met our newest faculty member: Ocean Vuong.
Ocean is… saintly, spiritual, in-tune, and… beyond.
He started off by thanking us for doing what we do: write poetry.
While he was talking, Karen abruptly interrupted him and said: “I’m sorry, but there is bear out there!”.
After the hoopla, Colette said: “Ocean, you’ve just been seriously upstaged.” Everyone burst into laughter.
He reminded us to refocus our energy on doubt… to remember why we do what we do… to go beyond the practical writing, editing, and publishing process.
Karen quoted a writer she loves: it’s about “living in bewilderment.”
What a special moment & morning.
In the afternoon, I went to yoga class.
It was just what I need to ease into the evening after hours spent sitting at a desk and writing.
Then the sky did this at night, while we were having drinks at MacLab:
Day 17: May 16, 2017
Today was all about bookbinding at ginko and ink.
It only took us four hours, some stress, and lots of patience, but we made it.
Adèle and I later met up with Jake for some Japanese food in town.
On our way back, we saw tourists taking photos with an elk that was casually eating grass in someone’s front yard.
I don’t know what was wilder: the elk, or the fact that this person had her face wrapped in a black shawl…
At night, fog covered the mountains:
Day 18: May 17, 2017
At 4pm, it was Open Studios in the Glyde Hall/Jeanne and Peter Lougheed building.
We got a behind-the-scenes look into the visual and digital arts studios and met the artists from the Banff Artist in Residence (BAiR) Program.
Their works are as varied as their personalities. They use so many different mediums–it’s exhilarating.
The event was held on two floors.
At the entrance, we received a glass of wine with which to explore.
Artworks & spaces that caught my attention:
I was sometimes more fascinated with their studios:
Day 19: May 18, 2017
Today, I must have spent 7 hours writing… which is exhausting + exhilarating at the same time.
Day 20: May 19, 2017
At 4pm, we had our usual team meet-up, this time with Ocean.
We talked about everything from fact vs. fiction in poetry, layers of doubt, memory, time, the past, collaborations, alienating canons, North America’s incessant quest for originality, and oppression within the English sentence.
For Ocean, linear time was conducive to cultural amnesia; he saw the poem as an opportunity to create your own mythology.
Then Jake interrupted Karen’s reading of a poem because of a coyote outside.
This place never ceases to amaze (and interrupt!).
Speaking of… Bear 148 keeps popping up in our conversations. She is a grizzly bear who roams around Banff and is known to the rangers. She’s usually not a threat.
Just a couple of days ago, however, two hikers in the Park got the scare of a lifetime, when she started following them.
Thankfully, as the Calgary Herald reported, all was well that ended well…
One more reminder to bring bear spray on hikes.
Day 21: May 20, 2017
This morning, on my way to town, on a sunny (18C predicted) day, this:
Fun fact about Banff: you can ski all the way into May.
While some are in town showing off their flip flops, others are donning ski gear and carrying snowboards.
In the afternoon, I went to do some shopping and bought this lovely wooden piece. It’s by artist Agnes in August.
I also got this little card, which I want to offer to my mentor and friend.
I got the gift at Branches. The store holds all sorts of artworks and jewelry by Canadian artists.
It’s worth the trip on Wolf Street.
I then had supper at Park. Again, more bears… this time inside and above the bar.
At night, it was goodbye drinks for Colette and Dale’s last day.
Day 22: May 21, 2017
I was all “kid in a candy store” kayaking on the Bow river.
I went with my friend Colin, who’s been-there-done-that. Thankfully, cos the currents abound.
We rowed for about an hour and a half.
The views toward the rockies were breathtaking.
Today = sun & warmth.
I could finally wear my summer dress & sandals in the evening.
Day 23: May 22, 2017
Booked studio #210 in JPL for writing today and loved it.
My writing view:
Overheard today on Wolf Street: “People don’t jaywalk!”
Then suddenly, this message on the main door of the PDC.
Day 24: May 23, 2017
I worked in the library all morning, then met up with Ocean in the afternoon at MacLab.
Our session together was revelatory + epiphanic.
At night = games night in the Artists’ Lounge.
We played Taboo till 11.30pm and laughed ourselves to death.
Day 25: May 24, 2017
I wrote in JPL Studio # 206 this morning while listening to M83, Phosphorescent, Rhye, and First Aid Kit.
Guest what? After 24C yesterday, we’re looking out at full on snow today…
Ah, mountain weather…
More art in my studio:
I mean, what else does a poet need but a red file cabinet, a hanger and a door?
At lunch today, the mountains were gone…
Off for our group photo.
Snow covered the ground very quickly.
In the afternoon, I visited the open studio (One Month in Canada – An Unrealized Union) of three artists working at Leighton’s.
Here is a little about it from the website:
“Invented by Marko Mäetamm, Rita Bozi and Ken Cameron and based on truth or almost truth, this multi-media exhibit including film, video, animation, text, visual images, found objects, installation and performance, is a conversation about immigration and unrealized unions.
The three are hosting an “Open Studio” at the end of their second development phase. Come see what they have been up to so far. The installation production will be mounted in 2018 at the Tallinn Art Hall.”
They also had a great collection of postcards + texts:
There, I met artists Marko Mäetamm, Rita Bozi and Ken Cameron, as well as poets Charles Sagalane and Corinne Larochelle from Quebec.
Day 26: May 25, 2017
Disaster struck: water spilled all over my laptop.
There are no technicians in Banff or Canmore… Had to drive to Calgary to get the MacBook fixed; lost an entire day.
Thank god for my very good friend, Colin, who agreed to drive me there, wait for me, and then drive me back…
At night, we went out for Bingo at the Legion.
I won 15$. Maybe my luck is turning…
Day 27: May 26, 2017
I met up with Charles Sagalane and Corinne Larochelle in Charles’ studio. Rita Bozi was also there.
We exchanged our work-in-progress, talked poetics, and sipped exotic teas Charles had prepared for us.
The event will be repeated in Montreal. It will also, possibly, manifest itself as part of a performance. Rita is on it.
Day 28: May 27, 2017
It was all about the Walrus Talks in the evening.
Sheldon Kennedy, former NHL player (leader director, Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and co-founder, Respect Group), gave a heartbreaking speech on the importance of helping children who’ve suffered abuse.
He was himself sexually abused as a child and has made it his life mission to help others.
At night, it was drinks at the Fairmont hotel with my man, who arrived for a visit. What a beautiful spot to enjoy tea or a beer.
Also, you can find Marylin Monroe golfing at Banff:
Day 29: May 28, 2017
En route to Jasper with my man:
We stayed in Jasper over night.
Day 30: May 29, 2017
Rowed a boat today and loved it.
Day 31: May 30, 2017
Time to write up a thank you note to the amazing donors who’ve helped me realize this rêve.
A millions and one thanks to the Vladimir and Yachiyo Wolodarsky for their immense support to the arts:
I framed one of my poems as a small gift.
Day 32: May 31, 2017
Tonight, we celebrated Greg! It’s his last day as Director of the programme. He’s been at the helm for thousands of years.
We decorated Tunnel Mountain Lounge, in the basement of Lloyd Hall, and enjoyed some wine & cheese.
Lee provided some fantastic sketches:
Day 33: June 1, 2017
Thursday night is Bingo night, of course.
This time, we continued with Bowling!
Love these shoes!
Day 34: June 2, 2017
Final goodbye cocktail = sadness + Bow river overflowing in all its majesty…
Day 35: June 3, 2017
Coming back is bittersweet: leaving a swell experience + newfound friendships, but going back to my own bed, food, and old friends.
One last goodbye awaited me at the Calgary airport:
Montreal welcomed me with a decadent display of lights…
So long, Banff. And thank you,