The Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour is paddling back to Grand River for an encore. Five poets and one musician will embark on a 10-day tour of the river by canoe, setting up poetry readings along the way, including stops at the West Montrose covered bridge and in and Elmira.

The tour was founded in 2010 by poets Linda Besner and Leigh Kotsilidis.

“Presses don’t often tour authors to smaller communities so we decided to bring poetry to people rather than having people come to the big city. We thought a canoe would be kind of a quirky way to conduct a tour. Its also the main way a lot of transportation happens in your specific part of Ontario, so its kind of nodding to the history of the area as well,” explained Kotsilidis of the event’s origins.

The tour focuses on bringing contemporary art to smaller communities along the river, often overlooked by Canadian reading tours that favour major city locations. The group will launch out of Toronto on Aug. 9 and reach their first destination in Elora on Aug. 11. Altogether the tour will run for 10 days, with stops at nine locations.

Much of the funding for the group comes from the publishing houses that handle the artists. But the tour has also gained sponsors and collaborators, the BridgeKeepers and Grand River Conservation Authority.

Local environmental topics will echo through the some of the work presented on the tour, but Kotsilidis explains that the group will also cover a variety of other subjects related to sustainability and environmental awareness.

“One of our poets, Darryl Whetter, his poetry tends to be ecological in theme. That’s not necessarily the focus of all of our work but we are just trying to focus on some of the environmental sustainability concerns of the local communities thorough our tour.”

Each artist is allotted about seven minutes on stage to perform and at each location, the six poets invite at least two local writers or musicians to perform along side the troupe at each performance location. Access to campgrounds and local communities allows the poets to travel only by canoes provided to them by local sponsors, Treks in the Wild. Still, Kotsilidis explains that roughing it has its downside with food, timing and lack of privacy presenting constant challenges. Yet the convenience of the unconventional transport method is undeniable for the group.

“The number of communities on the river is exceptional,” she said.

Scrapping their initial idea three years ago to use horses for the tour, Kotsilidis notes that the Grand River was a perfect choice for the trip, as the river can be easily navigated by even the most inexperienced boaters.

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Elena Maystruk
Elena Maystruk was a journalist at the Woolwich Observer where she covered news, business, sports and human interest beats. She has previously worked with university and independent publications in Toronto, covering everything from the city music scene to the local branch of the Occupy movement. She is a long-time community enthusiast and volunteer in Waterloo Region and part of the 2012 Media Studies graduating class at Guelph-Humber University. Maystruk is currently a staff writer for the Strathroy Age Dispatch.