ASLE Conference Review : Day 3

Print Friendly, PDF & Email editor Simmons Buntin blogs the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment biennial conference:

Darth Vader plays a mean fiddle in downtown Victoria, and it wasn’t all Star Wars theme, either.

The third day of the ASLE conference in Victoria, BC:


Well before the ASLE conference started, coordinators Dan Philippon (ASLE president and program chair) and Richard Pickard (local arrangements chair) noted that there would be more time for network-building and socializing before, between, and after the sessions of this year’s conference. We haven’t been disappointed. While today’s sessions were strong once again, I enjoyed the discussions and gatherings outside of the panels more so.

This morning I attended the paper jam titled “Poetic Forms, Poetic Places: Readings and Reflections,” featuring Ian Marshall on haiku and the International Appalachian Trail, Cara Chamberlain on the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, Emily Carr on the poem as ecotone, Mary Pinard on the sonnet redouble as an “archipelago of song,” a phrase nearly as beautiful as her sonnets, and contributor Andrew C. Gottlieb reading his Isle Royale National Park poems, two of which appear in our current issue (with audio). Poetry is always a great way to start out the morning, and this panel did not disappoint.

I then skipped the ecocriticism mid-morning plenary session (I mean, aren’t we all critical enough of our environment, anyway?! okay, sorry…) and worked the table through lunch, catching up with a few contributors like Andrew Wingfield and Joan Maloof and meeting lots of other great folks.

The first afternoon session was difficult to choose, as the roundtable “Earth’s Body: An Ecopoetry Anthology” featuring Ann Fisher-Wirth, Laura-Gray Street, and others, and the “Poems on Place” reading featuring Suzanne Roberts and other poets were both very tempting. But I felt especially drawn to the paper jam “Creative Nonfiction: Transformations,” facilitated by Hawk & Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability editor and Unity College environmental literature associate professor Kathryn Miles. Hawk & Handsaw deserves mention here not just because of its cool (sub+)title and the (full disclosure here) fact that I have an essay in its just-released second issue, but because this beautiful journal is going to raise the bar for creative environmental journals. I’ll have it down at the table if you want to check out the copy — just don’t take it from me, please! (You may take the Hawk & Handsaw postcard, instead.)

The panel featured Jennifer Calkins on quails, Robert Scott Elliott on flyfishing the Sol Duc, Catherine Meeks on the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mary Webb on the urban heat island that Reno has become, Elizabeth Van Zandt on Mojave’s sky islands, and Russ J. Van Paepeghem, editor of Camas: The Nature of the West (another really good environmental journal) on the topography of silence. A lovely mixture!

The afternoon closed out with a packed, and delightful, author’s reception, where I picked up books by Kathryn Miles (Adventures with Ari: A Puppy, a Leash, and Our Year Outdoors) and Suzanne Roberts (Nothing to You: Poems), as well as the brand-new From the Fishhouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, edited by Camille T. Dungy (thanks Camille!). I also met contributor Anca Vlasopolos, whose work I much admire.

Name dropping here? Yeah, sort of, but understand that I know a lot of folks digitally through the journal (and/or Facebook, blogging, etc.), so finally meeting them in person is a big deal to me — worth mentioning, certainly! And the spaces in between the sessions and author’s reception today, especially, resounded with these wonderful connections.

This evening, editorial board member and columnist Lauret Savoy and I traveled to downtown Victoria for a really excellent dinner at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouses (more on that below) and stroll around the Inner Harbor (where we saw Lord Vader on violin, pictured above). I finished the evening catching up with folks at the Orion/Milkweed Editions reception, though once again I arrived too late for free beer, dangit!

Environmental Note

Anyone else notice that water from a stainless steel bottle tastes like, well… steel? Color me picky, but I like my water to taste pretty much like nothing.

Best Event/Activity

I’ve already mentioned the great connecting with folks — via the table, author’s reception, pre- and post-panel, and otherwise — so won’t hit that again. And I’ll discuss Spinnakers a bit below.

So let’s select my outing with Lauret Savoy, who kindly drove us to downtown and back. I first met Lauret in person back in NYC for the AWP conference, January 2008. She was a participant on “The Future of Environmental Essay” panel I chaired. I learned about her and her work through Alison Deming. To say I was blown away by Lauret’s presentation on the panel is an understatement. It was a great panel across the board — really great (read and hear excerpts of the panel that also included Alison, David Gessner, and David Rothenberg here) — and Lauret capped it off beautifully. Since then, she has joined our editorial board and is now writing a regular column, A Stone’s Throw, for each issue. Check out her first contribution on placing Washington, D.C., before the inauguration.

It was splendid to really have the opportunity to talk with Lauret this evening, the conversation ranging easily from family to geology to publishing and well beyond.

Worst Event/Activity

I’d still like a bigger crowd in the exhibitors area. Things definitely picked up just before the author’s reception, but we should have attendees strolling through in greater numbers all the time. I’ve heard from a few folks that they didn’t even know there is an exhibitors area.

Put the coffee out earlier and keep it filled up, maybe?

Beer Note

Before heading up to Victoria I Googled “Victoria brewpubs” and three came up: Canoe (see Day 0), Swanns (which I’ve yet to visit), and Spinnakers, which Lauret and I easily found across the Johnson Street Bridge this evening. What a great restaurant and brewpub this is! We got a table on the shady patio looking out toward the Inner Harbour, I opted for the delicious halibut fish and chips, and the beer was oustanding. I had the Nut Brown Ale: smooth and a bit smoky, in a good way. A gorgeous color and head, too.

Folks, they know how to brew some beer up in Victoria!

Take Away

1. I cannot stay up this late blogging.

2. I should instead stay up this late chatting with my many new ASLE friends.


The view from our table at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub.

Simmons Buntin and Lauret Savoy in front of the Empress Hotel.

The Pacific Grace, docked near the Inner Harbour esplanade.

Lauret photographs the harbour and the British Columbia Parliament Buildings.

Parting shot: silhoutted rigging. I don’t know what all this stuff is, but I do know that it is beautiful. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.