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Photo credit: Don McKay


Poet and artist Marlene Creates has been exploring ideas about place and our relationship to the land through her work for 35 years. Her ongoing project The Boreal Poetry Garden brings together science and the arts to celebrate six acres of boreal forest in Portugal Cove. [1]

Born in Montreal in 1952, Creates moved to Newfoundland in 1985 in part because her maternal ancestors were born on Fogo Island and in Lewisporte. Creates feels a profound connection to Newfoundland and Labrador, a connection that has become focused in recent years upon a “patch of boreal forest” about fifteen kilometres west of St John’s. In 2002, Creates purchased a six-acre terrain near Portugal Cove, and from that point forward made it her primary creative collaborator. Her kinship with this terrain is ecological as well as aesthetic. In addition to their art practice, Creates is actively involved in forest conservation. She co-founded the local Advisory Committee on the Environment. “This ecosystem,” she says, “the scale of the trees, the kind of plants that are here, the shape, the textures of this particular ecosystem, I just find it beautiful. I love it so much. This has become the basis and the focus of all my work”.  

Photographs have often been the only trace of where Creates has been and what she has done, her gestures so subtle that they vanish with the next strong wind or tidal cycle. As an ongoing work of site-specific poetry, The Boreal Poetry Garden is ostensibly a change in media but not a change in spirit. Like Creates’s other work, it operates through attentiveness, the specifics of place, and the question of how an artist can respond to a living ecosystem without taking anything away from that ecosystem. 

Creates began by noticing or, as she puts it, “individuating” the attributes of specific trees, plants, and landforms. She wrote short poems about these entities, then copied the poems out by hand onto cardstock, placing them in immediate proximity to that which had inspired them—a rockface, a flower—and photographed them. The cards are small glowing rectangles within the larger, vertically-oriented compositions, suggesting through their format that these are portraits as well as landscapes. [2]

“This specific site underpins my whole practice now, and my work has become more and more dematerialized. Most of it takes the form of video-poems, a locative internet project, and in situ public walks with readings of site-specific poems. I don’t feel I need to travel any further afield for subject matter. I’m always an artist-in-residence now –– in my own place. Besides, I’ll never live long enough to take in everything that’s here. 

When referring to tuning the site, I’m also thinking about the physical work I do every year to remove deadfalls and blowdowns from the paths, though I know that hard-line ecologists wouldn’t touch or remove anything. I do leave the standing dead or dying trees (‘snags’) because the cavity-nesting birds such as chickadees need them, as well as birds like woodpeckers need them for insects. But once they fall over, then I remove them. My gardening principles in The Boreal Poetry Garden are: plant nothing; ‘weed’ nothing; no digging; no fertilizing; no watering; harvest only blowdowns (for firewood); walk; sit; skinny-dip in the river; watch; listen; smell; feel; wait. My art is a way to respond to the world’s beauty and worth as it comes to my attention, or –– I should say –– my attention comes to it. 

 There is no question of a developer affecting this particular patch of boreal forest because I am the legal landowner. But ‘owning’ thousands of native trees, wildflowers, shrubs, mosses, lichens, a rock formation of hardened lava from volcanoes that erupted under an ocean about 700 million years ago, in addition to a stretch of the Blast Hole Pond River that’s constantly flowing through the site, is an absurd notion. I don’t see the site and all its beings as ‘belonging’ to me; rather, I see myself as the caretaker or steward of it for a period of time. This is why I try to avoid referring to the site as a property.” [3]


[1]       Crocker, Eva. “12 Years of Growth and Transformation in Marlene Creates' Boreal Poetry Garden.” The Overcast, February 16, 2018. https://theovercast.ca/12-years-of-growth-and-transformation-in-marlene-creates-boreal-poetry-garden/.

[2]       Hammond, Cynthia Imogen. “Glacier, Plaza, and Garden: Ecological Collaboration and Didacticism in Three Canadian Landscapes.” Sustainability 13, no. 10 (2021): 5729. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13105729.

[3]        Bach, Glenn. “Marlene Creates (Portugal Cove, Newfoundland).” IMPRINTABLE, November 22, 2017. https://imprintable.org/2014/05/06/marlene-creates/.

Additional information:

“Boreal Poetry Garden.” Newfoundland & Labrador Environment Network, July 13, 2011. https://nlenvironmentnetwork.org/2011/07/13/boreal-poetry-garden-2/.


“The Boreal Poetry Garden.” Présences du littéraire dans l'espace public canadien. Accessed July 15, 2021. http://plepuc.org/en/artwork/the-boreal-poetry-garden.


Bradbury, Tara. “The Boreal Poetry Garden.” St. John's Telegram. July 15, 2011.


Marlene Creates – environmental artist and poet. Accessed July 15, 2021. http://www.marlenecreates.ca/.


A Virtual Walk of the Boreal Poetry Garden – an Introduction. YouTube. YouTube, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8G_nNml5Fk.


A Virtual Walk of The Boreal Poetry Garden. Accessed July 15, 2021. http://marlenecreates.ca/virtualwalk/.


Chaisson, Caitlin. “Marlene Creates: Precise Moments in Particular Spots.” Far Afield, September 2018. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58389544d482e96c060c72a1/t/5bb3f70dc83025a8d2ca97cf/1538520914946/Creates_Marlene_Interview_FarAfield.pdf.


Project Title: Boreal Poetry Garden
Artists:  Marlene Creates
Year: 2005

Place: Portugal Cove, Newfoundland & Labrador

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