Collecting tales and images to map the city
A labour of love is how author Dymphny Dronyk describes The Calgary Project: A City Map in Verse and Visual (Frontenac House). She says the book an anthology collecting poetry song lyrics prose and art all tackling what makes Calgary well Calgary has occupied most of her and co-editor Kris Demeanor’s time for the past 18 months.
In the spirit of their multidisciplinary artists’ collective RE:act (which they co-founded together) the pair wanted a more inclusive project encouraging any and all to send in submissions. The result is eye-catching and kaleidoscopic with poems by Sheri-D Wilson Derek Beaulieu and Mayor Nenshi set amongst photos and art by George Webber James May and Mandi Stobo. Of the 300 entries Dronyk adds that some were from students as young as 11. (You can read some of the non-published works at blueskiespoetry.ca .)
Dronyk says the book is a portrait of Calgary right now opening the door to future editions. There are white hats and the Stampede of course; also meditations on 2013’s devastating flood and odes to Calgary’s vast green spaces. “It’s not a glossy tourism pamphlet that pretends we’re only one thing” she says adding that there’s curriculum attached to the book allowing it to be taught in schools.
The Calgary Project began in December 2012 when she and Demeanor put out a call to local poets looking for contributions commemorating his tenure as the city’s first Poet Laureate. The original deadline was June 30 which was quickly halted by the flood. “Everyone had people affected by it” says Dronyk. She says the book wouldn’t be complete without a chapter reflecting on the disaster. “We realized we had to extend the deadline and many of the submissions became flood related. It just happened we didn’t ask for that; we wanted to stay true to that organic creative process.”
A year hasn’t quite passed since the flood but it’s already becoming mythic despite how it still continues to affect many — Dronyk says her company only returned to their office as of last week. “While I didn’t lose my home I lost my work home and I think those stories are so common and vivid” she says. “Everything’s changed about the perception of our city. I think we will never be again what we were or fit the stereotype of the label that was hanging off us.” She says the flood and the support that followed reunited people with their communities. “People were saying they were gonna miss the flood response that camaraderie that had enveloped us. Maybe they don’t need to miss it — we don’t need a crisis to celebrate that part of our culture and to make time to seek each other out.”
Dronyk says the completion of the book revealed new things to her about Calgary as well. “There are many poems about Nose Hill Park as a place of solace and renewal” she says. “People are very protective of the green spaces in the city. The flood underlined the power of the river to shape the community.” Both she and Demeanor were floored by Calgarians’ generosity. “We’re incredibly blessed to be part of a community where you can take that big heartedness and count on it” she says. “If you’re going through a rough time there’s someone out there who will respond with kindness.”
She adds that it also changed the common stereotypes people had about Calgary’s cultural scene. “There’s this thing about Alberta in general like ‘Why would you wanna live there?’ It’s so misguided; it’s not like that when you’re here. It’s very creative innovative visionary and friendly the best of all worlds.”