Sometimes, it feels like poet-author Sue Goyette has spent a lifetime parsing the forest for the trees. Long inspired by nature, wildness and humanity’s need for both, a Goyette work is never far from soil or seed—proved by almost every entry in her bibliography, from her 2015 Nova Scotia Masterwork Arts Award-winning book Ocean to the daily poems she wrote in 2018 charting the Halifax Public Gardens’ agave plant to her newest collection of poems, 2022’s Monoculture.
When I reach Goyette by phone to discuss Monoculture—out now via Gaspereau Press, and celebrating an official launch party November 3 at 7pm at The Bus Stop Theatre—she mentions the roots of her inspiration burrow even deeper: “I have very, very early memories of riding my bike: When I was six, seven, riding my bike to the end of the road in my community, where there wasn't development yet—and there was forest. And just leaving my bike at the edge and going in and finding things like snakes and bugs that I've never seen and a kind of darkness that was lit by the sun in shafts. It was a whole other world I felt greeted by,” Goyette says. “I probably felt more at home in the forest than I did sometimes in my own house.”
But these very experiences that let the seedlings of her creativity and selfhood branch ever higher feel like a sell-by date fast approaching—something Goyette grasps better than most. Monoculture sees the poet imagining a near future in which Nova Scotia’s last remaining forest has become a tourist attraction, preserved for public enjoyment. Feeling more inevitable than sci-fi, the book is framed as imagined visitors’ comments, posted on the fictional forest’s official website. The frisson you’re feeling at that last sentence—a head-on collision between something so ancient and something so now—is the exact pitch Goyette is hoping you’ll trip over with her.
I balk at the idea in equal parts delight (because it feels Douglas Coupland modern and also Greek chorus ancient) and disgust (because, well, I’ve read website comments before). When I tell Goyette that, early in my days on Team Coast we had to moderate the comments on our own articles, she laughs appreciatively. “I love complaints on TripAdvisor. And I love, love comments. I think the comments below stories in newspapers—like when CBC used to let anyone comment, for example. It's kind of like the underground parking lot: Like, anything can be said. There's no accountability,” she says. “And I just think there's a wildness to that, that site where comments are made and I wanted to get to that as well. So yeah, I'm kind of thinking backwards and kind of more contemporary, because that's how we have to situate forests: Forests are ancient and they're also trying to live along with us and the debauchery and building that we do.”
(And here, the brilliance of using fictional online comments as a narrative approach makes itself clear.)
"Forests are ancient and they're also trying to live along with us and the debauchery and building that we do"
“My challenge was to refresh the talk so that people would want to read it, rather than the same old, same old. Because we become saturated. I remember when I was in my 30s, and David Suzuki was finding the warnings then—and the warnings very much felt like coming from a parent: Like I have to clean my room, but I didn't feel like it. I’m interested in reframing the conversation so that we feel more active in how we participate with it,” Goyette adds later, when I ask her why the time is now for yet another book on the climate crisis.
“I think part of the decolonization we’ve kind of committed to—and are introduced to the Truth and Reconciliation Act—is how we’re treaty people and how land is a big part of transforming and learning about being here in better ways,” she adds. “This kind of late-capitalist, neo-liberal time we're in that is looking for progress and making ways to make money and developing over care and people and community: We're seeing that the forestry as a business is thriving, and the forest as an ecosystem is flailing and dying. And so I think we're at a meaningful time on the planet where we need to reassess and then commit to having a more relational understanding of where and how we live on the land—and how we are animal and that we need our forest.”
Just because the climate alarm has been ringing doesn’t mean we can come to ignore it: “This book, for me, is my way of going into how can that [idea of] ‘better’ look? Starting that conversation and holding space. So this book offers you the invitation to sit down and consider,” Goyette says. “So you're in a forest thinking, just by reading the book, hopefully.”