Local poet Joanna Lilley is photographed at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 20, where she will be hosting a poetry workshop on Jan. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Local poet Joanna Lilley is photographed at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 20, where she will be hosting a poetry workshop on Jan. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Poetry for the ages

Workshop set for the Yukon Beringia Centre

On Jan. 24, the Yukon Beringia Centre will serve as the backdrop for a poetry workshop hosted by local poet Joanna Lilley.

There, the exhibits of Beringia-era creatures — mammoths, short-faced bears, Yukon horses, among others — will be the inspiration for the poetry work of up to nine participants.

The workshop, scheduled from 10 a.m. until noon, follows the March 2020 publication of Lilley’s book Endlings, a collection of poems inspired by animals that have gone extinct.

Half of the poems in the book focus on animals that existed before humans.

While Lilley has taken part in a number of online events around the release of Endlings, this marks the first in-person workshop she has been able to host since the book’s publication.

“It feels like a little bit of a luxury,” she said in a Jan. 18 interview, reflecting on the extensive restrictions that are in place in other parts of the country as COVID-19 numbers in those areas increase.

With numbers down in the Yukon — as of the morning of Jan. 21 there were no active cases in the territory — the workshop can be held with a limit of nine participants. As is the case with all indoor spaces in the Yukon, masks are required with participants also asked to bring a pen/pencil and a notepad or paper.

The workshop will also be held in a way that participants can stay physically distant while they are taking part.

Lilley’s book Endlings is a collection of poems inspired by animals that have gone extinct. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Lilley said the workshop is aimed at poets of all levels and will begin with a few warm-up exercises to help get the words flowing.

“It’s absolutely for everyone,” she said, noting her hope it will help writers come up with ideas.

“It’s really just to play around,” Lilley said.

She pointed out it will also give writers a chance to get together (while still physically distancing) and write.

“It’s wonderful to connect with other writers,” she said.

Following the warm-up exercises, participants will each spend time at an exhibit that will be the inspiration for their piece of written work.

While exhibits of a Beringia-era animal will be used for the exercise, Lilley said the poetry that comes from that exhibit could focus on something entirely different. The exhibit may inspire a memory of a person or another thought that brings a poem to life.

As Lilley pointed out, inspiration for poetry can come from virtually any subject matter.

Her idea for Endlings, for example, came a few years ago at another writing retreat she was at.

“I’ve always connected with animals,” she said.

In recent years, Lilley said, she’s been hearing more and more about animals being impacted by climate change and becoming endangered or extinct. She said she wanted to honour those animals.

As she was working on Endlings before the pandemic, she received an advanced artist grant from the Yukon government that allowed her to travel and visit the Smithsonian in Washington; the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to research natural history for the collection.

Given the changes COVID-19 has brought, Lilley says she feels especially fortunate that she was able to visit those museums for her book.

Complementing the travel to natural history museums around the continent were local treks to the Yukon Beringia Centre, which resulted in pieces like Transmutation, a poem written about the Yukon horse, among others.

Endlings is Lilley’s third collection of poetry to be published following If There Were Roads in 2017 and The Fleece Era published in 2014. She also published her own chapbook of poems – They Bring It On Themselves – in 2013.

Lilley opens her book called Endlings to a poem called Trans mutation. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Along with her poetry, Lilley is the author of Worry Stones, a novel published in 2016 and The Birthday Books, a collection of short stories published in 2015.

Her work has also appeared in a number of literary journals over the years such as the Malahat Review and Grain. Her website, www.joannalilley.com, also features samples of her work along with some links to readings.

As for upcoming projects, Lilley is working on another novel, a poetry manuscript and is also doing a family writing project with her niece.

Those looking to participate in the Jan. 24 workshop can register by calling 867-332-8590.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com