Guide to the Plants of Toronto

Arleen Paré

the year they died
they died together     Frances
and Florence   though apart by one floor and three weeks
that year   the parks in Toronto
waiting at the time    wintertime
when they died
for the plants   for the ferns   flowers   cattails
arum and duckweed   scouring rush
to break through the frost-hardened soil
waiting for the ice to break open
for the soil to go soft as brown sugar
and though neither Frances nor Florence
would have remembered
the names of the plants
plants they had known for the past fifty years
plants growing along the boulevards and creek beds of Moore Park
of Mud Creek and Yellow   on Glenrose and on St. Clair
in their backyard
that year the Botany Group
of the Toronto Field Naturalist Club
produced an olive-green booklet
a checklist of plants in the city
to guide walkers through parks with their children and dogs
life going on without the two women
twigs and beggar’s-tick burrs
the way Frances had once walked Delilah and Samson
and some days Florence would walk with them too
ask whether a green shoot might be skunk cabbage
or white or maybe yellow trout lily
and if that yellowish clump might be wolffia or crimson fern
jack-in-the-pulpit they both knew
without doubt

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Arleen Paré’s first book, Paper Trail, was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay BC Book Award for Poetry and won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2008. Leaving Now, a mixed-genre novel released in 2012, was highlighted on All Lit Up. Lake of Two Mountains, her third book, won the 2014 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, was nominated for the Butler Book Prize and won the CBC Bookie Award. Paré’s poetry collection, He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car, was a 2015 Victoria Butler Book Prize finalist. She lives in Victoria with her partner of thirty-seven years.

Arleen Paré, in her first book-length poem after her Governor General Literary Award–winning Lake of Two Mountains, turns her cool, benevolent eye to the shared lives of Florence Wyle and Frances Loring, two of Canada’s greatest artists, whose sculptures she comes face to face with at the National Gallery of Canada. In the guise of a curator, Paré takes us on a moving, carefully structured tour through the rooms where their work is displayed, the Gallery’s walls falling away to travel in time to Chicago (where they met at art school and fell in love in the 1910s), New York, and Toronto (where they lived and worked for the next six decades). Along the way, Paré looks at fashions in art, the politics of gender, and the love that longtime proximity calls forth in us.

“… Like the sculpted female figures she describes as ‘tacking their bodies against the history of storm,’ Paré has positioned her own graceful, finely chiselled lines to recast the history of women in art, in society, in love.”
—Anita Lahey

“Paré’s poems vibrate with contextual awareness: the artists’ personal lives, their professional milieu, the painting in the next room as the poet meets Loring and Wyle’s sculptures for the first time. . . . A distinctive and memorable book, sympathetic and gloriously questioning.”
—Stephanie Bolster

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