Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky, 2011 Gustafson Poet

The Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture will be delivered this year by Jan Zwicky of Quadra Island. The author of ten books, Jan has received a number of awards for her poetry including the Governor General’s Award of 1999 and the Dorothy Livesay Award in 2004. Jan’s lecture, entitled “Auden as Philosopher: How Poets Think,” explores the concept that poets know the world in a distinctive way that presents a profound challenge to corporate, technological culture.

The Gustafson event takes place on October 20 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Building 355 on the Nanaimo Campus. A reception featuring a fine selection of wines and appetizers will follow the lecture. Participants will have an opportunity to enjoy stimulating conversation with colleagues and the poet. Everything is free of charge. Students, friends, neighbours‚Äîeveryone ¬†in the VIU community and in the region is welcome to attend this gala event.¬† If you’re inviting your book club, remember to come early for group seating.

Instructors and students:  Students are welcome to meet Jan for an informal discussion about her poetry, as well as their own, at a special student event on October 19 at 1:30 p.m. in Building 355, Room 211. Jan has also offered to be available for class visits.  Including her poetry in your course would make her visit to VIU especially meaningful to students. Jan, a dedicated mentor to young poets, has served on the faculty of several universities and the Banff Centre Writing Studio.


Jan Zwicky


The rock weeps into its whiteness.
Sunny meadow slopes, the gentians, far above.
The sun, too, tumbles down. A symphony
of spruce boughs sinks into the fiery moss.

Jewel-music, the amber roar of the falls.
No one thinks of home.
Waiting in the cool shadows,
we are dappled with hope.


Remember how the track swung out
around the cutbank in the full light of noon?
In my dream,

I took off my rings then, my bracelets,
the gold locket.
To stand bare-headed among the pines!


The fascination of water
is the laughter of geometry.
Wind plunges down the hillside:
a longing to embrace.

The mountain drifts in twilight.
When we draw the blinds at dusk
is the moment we most want to open
them again.


Delicacy of mule deer, the sharp
dry scent of spruce —
we have been grateful for the smallest kindnesses:
a shelf that holds up books, dry socks.

Rain streaks the windows of the cabin.
Of course, the earth once moved
on fragile stilts like theirs.
Thought rolls down a crack, is lost.

A sky with holes, a desert
in the Amazon,
you, black stump, rigid in slash: —
Mist writhes from the surface of the lake.

We are tired.
The wooden bowl is empty.
All night, arguments with strangers, dim
corridors, panic.


It is spring. The gullies are dry.
One makes camp in a rocky meadow
under a plain of stars.

The hands fold themselves in sleep then;
and the ears, the eyes; the tongue
in its dark cavern.

The mind walks alone to the horizon.

When it returns, its face will be white,
the compass will lie broken
in its broken hand.

And when the tent flap flutters
in the windy dawn, where the heart lay
will be nothing.


Funding for these events is provided by an endowment fund set up by the Ralph and Betty Gustafson Trust, which is managed by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

Jan’s books are available through the Nanaimo Campus Bookstore.

For information, please contact Dale Wik, 250-740-6191.
Email: Dale.Wik@viu.ca

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