Since its beginning eight years ago, Canadian Writers Abroad has stepped away from the “abroad” to publish Canadian poetry, to mark the solstice or the equinox. This June, CWA presents Kate Sutherland, a poet who has been wandering for the past year (see bio note below). For your summer solstice reading, here are two poems about people a long way from home: “Shipwrecked” and “A New Epidemic.”
The poems are from Beasts of the Sea (knife/fork/book 2018), a poem sequence about Vitus Bering’s 1741 sea voyage from Russia to Alaska. I met Kate Sutherland last fall at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where we went for a walk undisturbed by beasts of any sort. -DM
A New Epidemic
Scurvy had scarcely subsided when a new epidemic appeared
Through whole days and nights nothing but card playing
First for money. When this was gambled away, sea otters
were slaughtered only for their skins, the meat thrown away
Even the pelts were left lying if they weren’t black enough
The most valuable skins are almost perfectly black. In the chase
of these animals, everyone tried to defraud everyone else
The more the nearer spring approached and hope rose
of being able to transport the skins home at great profit
I remonstrated with the officers to prohibit it, but the officers
were themselves devotees. Rebuilding of the vessel
progressed slowly. We killed upwards of 800
If the limits of our vessel had permitted
we should have killed three times more
Sutherland’s Note: These poems are excerpted from Beasts of the Sea (knife/fork/book 2018), a poem sequence about Vitus Bering’s 1741 sea voyage from Russia to the bit of America now known as Alaska, which draws from conflicting accounts found in the official logbook of the ship, and the journals of Georg Steller (naturalist and ship’s doctor) and Sven Waxell (second-in-command).
Kate Sutherland is the author of two collections of short stories, Summer Reading (Thistledown Press 1995) and All In Together Girls (Thistledown Press 2007). Her book of poems, How to Draw a Rhinoceros (Book*hug Press 2016), was shortlisted for a Creative Writing Book Award by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Her most recent publication is a chapbook of poems: Beasts of the Sea. Her stories and poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Best Canadian Poetry and Best American Experimental Writing. A new collection of poems on the theme of extinction is forthcoming from Book*hug Press in Fall 2020.
Kate Sutherland was born in Scotland, moved to Canada as a child, grew up in Saskatoon, and as an adult, lived in Ottawa, Edmonton, and Boston for a number of years. A professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, she settled in Toronto. She has spent much of this year wandering in the UK, where literary adventures included a residency at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland, and poem research at natural history museums in Edinburgh and London.
- Jason Wiens reviews How to Draw a Rhinoceros in Quill and Quire.
- Interview with Kate Sutherland in The Puritan: “Inescapable and Unknowable.”
- How to Draw a Rhinoceros reviewed at Arc Poetry Magazine and at Eclectic Ruckus.
- Summer Reading won a Saskatchewan Book Award.
Feature photo credit: Eleanor Proudfoot.