Protest and Praise, With Writer Susan Alexander

‘For what I speak is both protest and praise, witness to the living and the dying…’ – S.A.

“Howe Sound was full of sea lions this spring. They were so close and they were there because we had done so much remediation in the Sound. How wonderful it is that we have done so much to clean up and it has been successful. Yet at the same time, there is constant pressure for high density developments on the water and serious re-industrialization like the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant being built near Squamish.”

Susan Alexander is a published poet, environmental activist and follower of the Christian faith, living on Bowen Island. ‘Canticle for Sea Lions’ is a poem in her most recent collection called Vigil. In this poem, Susan tries to celebrate the return of herring and anchovy to the Sound and all the creatures that benefit, while at the same time clearly outlining threats to marine life.

Here Susan reads her poem over the sounds of sea life in Howe Sound, and we can see the sea lions and birds on the ocean:

The poem is going to be featured in Bowen/Nexwlelexm Marine Conservation Altlas which will be published in spring, 2020. You can hear Susan read the poem in her conversation with Sheryl MacKay of CBC North by Northwest, link provided below.

“We enjoy the privilege of living close to the ocean and the forest. We’ve seen marine life in Howe Sound rebound after decades of cleaning up toxic industrial sites.

The climate crisis has been a concern since I learned about the greenhouse effect in high school in the early 1970s. That didn’t mean that I did anything about it. In fact, I, like many Canadians, benefited financially from oil and gas development in Canada.

I find the ‘what ifs’ haunting. What if the world had developed the alternative energies that were available in the 1800s: solar fuel cells, wind, geothermal? My environmental engagement has grown mostly because of my connections in the Bowen community where I have lived the last twenty-seven years. I have friends who are scientists and activists and naturalists.”

This most recently published collection, Vigil, won The Ross and Davis Mitchell Award this year, the topic being Faith and Poetry. Susan didn’t think her collection of poems would appeal to the judges because it is about the environment. She wondered if readers saw a theological engagement in her poetry. Now she understands that her faith is shown throughout her writing as opposed to her telling about it.

“I am filled with wonder at where writing comes from: the idea, the image, the word play. I’ve often had this feeling someone much more talented and intelligent and articulate than I am is at work. A mystery.

Image Journal’s Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize for Faith and Poetry is a new biennial $20,000 prize for a suite of poems that explore access to spiritual experience. I was both surprised and delighted that Vigil, my unpublished suite of poems was chosen as the winner for 2019.

Some of these poems came out of a workshop I did with Michigan poet Laura Apol who encouraged us to speak back to injustice and to try to reimagine and reclaim a story. The poems in Vigil will be coming out in magazines, including Image, over the next year.

As for the prize money, I am committing all of it towards three local BC initiatives to preserve and protect our home: the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Tidal Flats project in the Great Bear Rainforest near Bella Coola, My Sea to Sky, an advocacy group which aims to defend and restore Howe Sound, and A Rocha Canada’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre which interweaves environmental science and research with faith and community.”

Susan is the winner of the 2016 Short Grain poetry prize and the 2015 Vancouver Writers’ Festival Contest.

Her poems have appeared in SubTerrain, Arc, CV2, Grain, Room, The Antigonish Review, and PRISM international.

Left to right: Ross McDonald, Susan Alexander, Libby Osler. ‘I believe love may be the strongest power in the universe.’ -S. Alexander

Marine life videos by Bob Turner videos

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