What a pleasure to read a book of poems in celebration of water. Poets pay attention and in the case of this anthology, attention is paid to “varied and loved watery places, water systems, ecologies, and vanishing creatures,” as the book’s editor, Yvonne Blomer, points out in her introduction to Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds.
“Sweet water is any naturally occurring water except seawater and brackish water,” so that includes the wonders of glaciers, as well as “bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and even underground water.”
Susan Stenson’s poem “Amniotic” opens the first section of the book about the first water from which we emerge. Stenson, who lives in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, B.C., writes: “Inside your mother / the song of the song / of the watershed.”
“The Weight of Snow” is by Michelle Poirier Brown, who has studied the mountain rivers of British Columbia. In the “Notes and Ecologies of Poems” section, Brown says: “For 15 years, I worked as a government negotiator, trying to find solutions to problems affecting people whose lives depend on rivers altered by hydro development. I negotiated, as well, with Indigenous people whose connection to their river has been similarly dislocated by colonialism.”
Katherena Vermette’s poem is at the beginning of the “Movement” section of the book and is entitled “Where.” Vermette is a Metis writer from Treaty One territory, the heart of the Metis nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. A series of couplets in the poem begin with “not” and are followed by haunting descriptions such as: “but here near this last bend / in the river // here where the trees break off / and their leaves dance high with song.”
Other poems include “Riven” by Laura Apol, who is an associate professor at Michigan State University and serves as the Lansing-area poet laureate, and “Don River: Crossings and Expeditions” by Anita Lahey, who writes of the river familiar to people in Toronto, Ontario.
An excerpt from “Beholden” by Rita Wong and Fred Wah contains words that move across four pages surrounding a map of Columbia Reach, an area of McNaughton Lake in British Columbia. Now known as Kinbasket Lake, named for a chief of the Shuswap First Nation, it was a small lake engulfed by the flooding of the Columbia River Valley when the Mica Dam was constructed.
Maude Barlow, who is an activist for water as a human right, says in the introduction to the section entitled “Grief”: “Water is being depleted many, many times faster than nature can replenish it . . . Do not listen to those who say there is nothing you can do to the very real and large social and environmental issues of our time.”
The poems, in their various forms, are wonders in themselves, as are the various forms of “sweet water” to which homage is being paid. There’s a wonderful honoring of water as well as a celebration of poets who articulate their connections to it while also grieving the pollution and other alterations caused by human activity.