Love is like an old potato, according to poet Clea Roberts.
This comparison appears in her poem Seasonal Adjustments. In it, she writes of how love “waits in the cupboard / with the potatoes / its eyes exploding like flowers.”
This connection appears again in a later section of the poem: “while the dog roots up / the seed potatoes / feels her paws / pulling through the soil, recognizes this as love.”
“Love is kind of an internal emotion,” she says. “It grows in the darkness of the person.
“People have it inside of them since they’ve born. Is there going to be a little bit of light that draws this out, causes them to explode?
“I think love is a lot like that.”
The Whitehorse resident’s first book of poetry, Here is Where We Disembark, has just been published by Freehand Books, a literary imprint of Broadview Press in Calgary.
That puts Roberts in good company. The small indie press made waves with its publication of Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott, a book that was shortlisted for the prestigious Giller Prize in 2008.
Roberts’ observations of the potato’s passion must have come in a fit of whimsy, because her poetry is, on the whole, restrained. She makes few unsettling connections and aims to keep her free verses lithe and trim.
“Everything about my writing is spare,” she says. “Small lines, small words, small town.”
She admires the Canadian poet Don McKay. Like him, she hopes to trace with words the places “where the natural world and manufactured world meet.”
Her poetry also pivots at points between objective observations and subjective feelings, as if sketching those moments when the space between nature and us collapses.
In Transmutations, Roberts writes of “the wrestle / with the wheel, / the convincing logic / of snow drifts / wrapping the tires, / pulling you softly / into a ditch.”
Later, in another poem, she describes “wind that occurs from the northeast / as a thought would / one that has waited its turn / and now bolts full of intent / like a winter hare or a crack / in the windshield.”
The first section of the book surveys the seasons of Whitehorse. It’s largely based on Roberts’ observations during walks near her Hidden Valley home.
Memorable lines describe marvelling at the bright midnight sky in summer “like a dog doing improbable tricks,” recognizing friends on Main Street in winter “only by the colour and trim of their parkas,” and how, come spring melt, mud is “never so exotic, / tracked across the kitchen floor.”
Yukon’s usual cast of ravens, wolves and bears receive equitable representation. “There’s a lot of dogs and a lot of mittens,” says Roberts. “I did try to weed a few out, but it was hard.”
The second section of the book deals with the Klondike Gold Rush. While this subject is by now well-trod terrain for many authors, Roberts says the voices of women from the period remain unrepresented, in part for the simple reason that many women who lived through the gold rush lacked education and so didn’t write much.
So Roberts took a poetic leap, after much time rummaging around the archives and through books on the subject. “I wanted to hear their voices in my head, explore what their voices might have sounded like,” she says.
She hopes to capture “the longing, the hope and sometimes the failure” of the gold rush. Roberts notes that few stampeders made the fortunes they dreamed of. Many arrived too late.
These poems describes cabins that are more frequently visited by grizzly bears than the mailman, sternwheelers that “dream of the forests they will burn / in their bellies next year,” and the travails of having to climb the Chilkoot Pass—chief among them, having to step over dead horses “every 15 yards / from Skagway to Bennett—bloated / and eviscerated by the carrion eats, / their hollow eye sockets / do not watch us as we go.”
Roberts, 36, was born and raised in North Vancouver. She moved to Whitehorse seven years ago and spends her day working as a policy analyst with the Yukon Housing Corporation.
She thanks the Yukon Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Yukon government for grants that supported her as she wrote her book.
Here is Where We Disembark is available at Mac’s Fireweed Books. The book launch is on Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Old Fire Hall.
Contact John Thompson at