Nomadic Voluptuary: Nature and Art Inspiring Poetry
I have been drawn to art since I was young. I wanted to excel in art class in high school, but never did. I was the girl who fell behind in math, science, French, and art. Despite my poor luck at the academic side of art, the way in which I see, interpret, and live in the world is firstly through the beauty of visual images. One of my oldest friends calls me a ‘nomadic voluptuary’ because she knows that I am drawn to using my senses to make my way in the world. When I am rooted in one place, I always have a bit of wanderlust raging through my veins. As someone born in the sign of Sagittarius, I’m always torn between where I am rooted…and then where I might want to explore.
When I hike in the woods or swim in a northern lake, I am keenly aware of my senses—of being in my body more than in my head—and I tend to enter that experience intensely. Looking at art does a similar thing to me in that I tend to sink into the imagined world I see before me—in the images on the canvas, or on the photograph within the frame—and then I sit down to write. The beauty becomes the inspiration, the very prompt that brings the words to the surface of heart and head.
I was an ekphrastic poet before I even knew what ekphrasis was all about. In my undergraduate years, I took a Canadian art history course at Laurentian University in Sudbury and then volunteered at our local art gallery. I spent hours and hours organizing tiny slides of Canadian art, and, as I sat cross-legged on the floor, I often held them up to the light, squinting my eyes so that I could see the images. It was there, as a volunteer in my 20s, that I fell in love with the work of Emily Carr, David Blackwood, Mary Pratt, Maud Lewis, and Tom Thomson.
I’m the little girl who couldn’t draw or paint, the very one who grew up into the woman who haunts art galleries in her spare time and who now writes poems about art whenever she gets the chance. Secretly—well, not so secretly now—I buy small canvases, brushes, and tubes of acrylic paint, hoping to try again. Then I think of my favourite quotation by Samuel Beckett, an Irish playwright I adore. Beckett wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I love the possibility that lives inside that quotation. We can learn from our experiences in life—and in art and writing, too. It is, perhaps, why I keep a paper bag full of art supplies in my yoga and writing room…just in case…
What I’ve learned in recent years is that my art is mostly to be found in words, in how I make them dance across a page. Too, though, I have an eye for imagery. One of my favourite things to do is to go hiking out in the bush. The furthest places seduce me more than the ones that are inside the official borders of Sudbury’s city limits. I prefer driving out, down highways and past rock cuts, to find parks with trails that feel like pure magic to me. Then, I let the trees, rocks, shorelines, birds, and sunlight guide me. I stop to just look, to be in the moment of it all, and I sometimes take photographs. Then, usually a bit later—but not always—the words visit me through the photos I’ve taken, and I’m ekphrastic all over again.
I find great joy in the natural world. The few people I’ve hiked with know that I tend to exclaim, without prodding, “Oh, so beautiful! So pretty!” It just takes a glance to see the way a branch bends against a blue sky, or to notice the way a pinecone has fallen on a bit of lichen, and I’ve lost my heart to the beauty. The world becomes a still life painting.
So, while I’ve not become a visual artist in my adulthood, I’ve somehow come to photography in a new way, in a fashion that lets me write more lines of poetry, and in a manner that allows me to consider myself an ecopoet as well as an ekphrastic one. If you can access the beauty of the natural world, and if you can take close notice to pay attention to the smallest of things in the woods—from sound, to sight, to smell, to touch—then you can fashion a poem that reminds others of how much we should value our wildest and more beautiful natural spaces.
For me, as someone who loves to hike next to—and swim in!—northern lakes, the beauty of spending time outdoors is a key part of what makes me work as a person and as a writer. I think of Mary Oliver—so very often, actually—and I am always constantly drawn to her words. Three of my most favourite poems of hers are “How I Go to the Woods,” “When I Am Among the Trees,” and “In Blackwater Woods.” There are so many of her poems that resonate with me, but these tree poems of hers are poetic touchstones for me. When I am most at odds with myself, inside myself, and when I am doing deeper creative work, I think of how the trees always seem to save me. And then, too, I think of how poetry does the very same thing, and for that I am deeply grateful.
– Kim Fahner, 2021