Blood Opera: The Raven Tango Poems

In the early 2000s, I was immersed in a five week writing residency at the Banff Centre, planning to write a poetry collection inspired by the tango.  I was intrigued by my mother’s stories of dancing the tango in Paris in the 1930s, and I imagined a kind of tango songbook of poems exploring the intense human psychic dances with love, faith, family, death — the whole existential gamut. While immersed at Banff in Argentine tango music and researching the story of tango, my attention kept being drawn to the aerial feats of the mountain ravens.  Raven, with his outlaw trickster energy, infiltrated my consciousness and eventually the book itself, with Raven’s laconic, ironic bursts punctuating the intense melodrama of the various tangos.

Serendipity led me a few years later to Buenos Aires, where our youngest daughter Rhiannon was living and life-changing year studying and working in a recovered, worker-run printing press. When we visited her there, we saw that tango was vibrantly alive: young and old tango orchestras and dancers on the streets and in the many milongas.  I was fortunate to use the street photos of Rhiannon’s friend, Michael Gould-Wartovsky — an old bandoneon player in a plaza and couples dancing on street.

The next phase of the project was the collaboration with my MacEwan University colleague, Paul Saturley, who designed and illustrated the collection.  The book was planned to be the inaugural publication of the fledgling MacEwan Press, and that commitment gave us full aesthetic control over the work.  You can see more of Paul’s work at


Blood Opera: The Raven Tango Poems was adapted for the stage by dramaturge Mark Henderson and performed several times, most notably during Workshop West’s Canoe Festival with actors Calvin Malaka and Jenny McKillop, choreography by Kathleen Ochoa.

If you would like a copy of the book, please contact me at


In his “Prayers and Sayings of a Mad Farmer, Wendell Berry asks, “What is happiness but to prepare its place?  What is its monument but a rich field?”

In fifteen years of  evolving with and caring for five acres of Alberta prairie / boreal forest, we have a lived appreciation — in our muscles and in our spirits —  of Berry’s operational definition of happiness. Miraculously, we came to own the five-acre homestead of Russian immigrants, Jacob and Anna Din, who, at the turn of the twentieth century, had hand-built a house, barn and outbuildings near the Victoria Trail which hugs the North Saskatchewan River, near the town of Smoky Lake.  Our first encounter with the home place was wild — the place had gone feral. Animals and birds were living in the falling down house and barn, the grass was chest high, caragana had colonized the front yard and the woods, making them virtually impenetrable.

The wildness thrilled and intimidated us.

Gradually, we have made trails through the woods,  worked to restore the house and barn, tamed the overgrown grass, built new structures, and worked to cull the free-range invasiveness of the caragana, a species for which we have developed a healthy respect.  Jacob and Anna, like other immigrants, planed the Siberian peashurb as a hardy, fast-growing shelter belt and it thrived crazily. You can hear the shrub’s seed pods pop in the late summer heat, a highly efficient propagation system. This is the sound Mark’s dad was hearing as he lay dying in an Edmonton hospital — “I’m in the south field,” he told his son, smiling as he emerged into consciousness. “The caragana are popping.”

When artist Sydney Lancaster asked in 2011 to come to the farm to see what she might create there, we happily agreed.  What is emerging is a project we collaboratively call MAKE=BELIEVE, a term which captures for us an evocation of the beginner’s mind of childhood play and the conscious making of happiness, of art.

Sydney has gone into the caragana grove in the front yard and woven branches to make “under cover” structures, which she says, are “border and corridor, conduit and haven for humans and animals.” She has placed motion sensitive cameras in these structures, and captured fleeting glimpses of the creatures who move through there. She has created video recordings of sky and clouds and captured the sounds of birdsong in the spring. Magic.

Here’s a link to a virtual tour of a recent exhibit of Sydney’s work

Love & Hugs
Attachments area

Love Letters to the World — Sidewalk Poetry in the Meadows

A three-year collaboration between lead artists Jannie Edwards and Agnieszka Matejko and The Meadows Community League resulted in over 80 poems sandblasted into sidewalks in four locations in the Meadows community in southeast Edmonton.  The lead artists conducted close to 100 poetry workshops in schools, seniors residences and the Meadow Public Library to solicit poems from community members.  A community jury selected poems which were then sandblasted as a legacy project.

Read about the project in the links below:

The poem below is from Asra Nadem,  2017 Edmonton Youth Poet Laureate

Velma E Baker Poems #5.jpg

Videopoem: Engrams — Reach and Seize Memory

Poetry in motion — literally. This collaborative videopoem project was inspired by the work of Edmonton artist Darci Mallon, whose installation Engrams features a triptych of three huge works representing American Sign Language signs related to memory and identity. Each mark on wall-sized panels of transluscent mylar is created by the artist`s inked finger and handprints, among the most essential signifiers of identity.

Rick Gustavsen

Inspired by Mallon`s work, poet Jannie Edwards wrote a triptych of poems in English, which were translated into American Sign Language by Deaf translator and actor Linda Cunningham.

Rick Gustavsen

The project was filmed by videographer Rick Gustavsen whose handheld videography captures the fluidity and intensity of Cundy`s performance. The work was edited by David Cunningham.

Mill Woods Living Heritage Project

Mill Woods Canada Day Celebrations Photograph: Don Bouzek

Funded by two “Living Local“ grants (2012 & 2013)  from the Edmonton Heritage Council , the Edmonton Arts Council and the Mill Woods Presidents` Council of Community Leagues, this project aims to engage community artists  with  the stories of the people who created the unique Mill Woods community in Edmonton. Edmonton Heritage Council Living Local

Historian Catherine C. Cole and videographer Don Bouzek (Ground Zero Productions) collected the oral histories of some of the original planners and settlers of Mill Woods, a planned community created in the early 1970s in response to a housing shortage created by the second phase of the Alberta energy boom. The City and the province secretly acquired nine square miles of land and hired young, idealistic urban planners to plan the community.

Artists connected with Mill Woods (Jannie Edwards, Rod Loyola, Mark Edwards, Ashley Kumar) were brought into the project to use these oral histories to create original art.

In the first stage of the project, I wrote “The Ballad of Mill Woods,“ recounting the early history of the community:  the  story of the Papaschase band who were promised a reserve on the land that is now Mill Woods – a promise that was not delivered; the land bank assembly; the offering of lots for sale below market value,  for which citizens camped out overnight to acquire; the “arrival city“ nature of the community, where affordable housing attracted young families and newcomers to Canada, many of whom were leaving turmoil in their countries of origin. The ballad was incorporated into an six panel display, which was featured widely in the community.

In the project`s second phase, Don Bouzek and Jannie Edwards created a “braided poem“ of phrases culled from the oral histories.  Inspired by artists such as Steve Reich`s “Different Trains,“ we aimed to create a dramatic, polyphonic, communal spoken word interpretation of the lived history of the community in the voices of those who planned the community and who settled here.

Flutist Mark Edwards worked with classical Indian Kathak dancer Ashley Kumar to create an original flute and dance composition inspired by the words of Mrs. Gita Das, a community activist for many years.

These works, along with laptops with selections from the videotaped oral histories and a presentation by historian Catherine C. Cole were presented at a performance at Ashley Kumar`s SAAM Studio on November 30, 2013.

Ground Zero Productions

Mill Woods Artists Collective

South Asian Arts Movement Society

Words Unzipped: SkirtsAfire Festival 2014

Carolyn Gingrich, Potter Jannie Edwards, Poet Photograph: Madison Kerr
Carolyn Gingrich, Potter Jannie Edwards, Poet Photograph: Madison Kerr

Words Unzipped | March 7 @ 7:00 – 9:00pm | Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts (9225 – 118 Ave)

Words Unzipped showcases new collaborations between female spoken word poets and a range of talented performance artists. The evening features the spoken word poetry of Mary Pinkoski (Edmonton’s Poet Laureate), Jannie Edwards, Gisèle Lemire, Medgine Mathurin, Naomi McIlwraith, Carolyn Gingrich, and Erika Luckert, paired with the incredible movements of the Good Women Dance Collective, the music of Vicky Berg, as well as the delicate performance pottery of Carolyn Gingrich. This evening offers another perspective to the words unzipped from poetic women, inspired in thought and performance by the theme of shadows.

 SkirtsAfire Festival

Video/Poetry installation — adrift

Agnieszka Matejko
Agnieszka Matejko

A collaboration of visual artist Agnieszka Matejko, videographer Bob Lysay and poet Jannie Edwards, adrift addresses the growing social problem of homelessness through an interdisciplinary artwork. The metaphor of wind and the weather it creates symbolically links to the powerful but often invisible socioeconomic systems that result in “shadow people” –  the homeless, who are often afflicted with mental health or addictions issues, and who drift through the edges and alleys of the city – marginalized, largely unsupported and virtually invisible.

Featured at InSight 2, Spring 2013, FAB Gallery, University of Alberta, “an international exhibition at the nexus of design, the health humanities and community.“


Collingwood Sidewalk Poetry Project


photographs: Agnieszka Matejko 

Twenty-eight poems were selected by jury for this public art project and sandblasted into the pathways around the Collingwood Park Pavilion.  In collaboration with Lead Artist Agnieszka Matejko, I facilitated poetry workshops to generate short poems at Braemar School, Oscar Romero High School, Jasper Place High School and the Lois Hole Library.  Thanks to teachers Nicole Galellis, Rhonda Day, Jodi Burak, Katee Robichaud  and Steven Goss for inviting us to work with their wonderful students.  I call these poems “little love letters to the world.“