Edmonton poet explores history of the North Saskatchewan River in debut collection

Douglas Elves, who lives in Edmonton, recently published his debut poetry collection called Riverlines. (Douglas Elves/Submitted)

“Being there and appreciating it comes through, fleshes out my understanding of the place.” – Douglas Elves

Edmonton poet Douglas Elves is giving readers a taste of history as they peruse his collection about the North Saskatchewan River.

In Riverlines, which was published in the summer of 2019, Elves gives a historical summary at the top of the poems explaining his inspiration.

He writes from the perspective of Gabriel Dumont, who treks along the river as he flees into exile after the Battle of Batoche, or in the eyes of Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery, who lived in Prince Albert for a year when she was a teenager.

“I take somebody else’s experience and, of course, any writing that you do is from your own experience. So if I’m using the voice of Gabriel Dumont sitting down by the river, everything that he sees is what I’ve seen or I can imagine,” explained Elves.

“It’s generally best if you don’t have to explain the poem, but on the other hand, these are often very specific inspirations.”

The collection’s summary reads “Ranging from midstream to far watershed, the Saskatchewan Glacier to Cumberland House and beyond, his poems are of those who have lived and worked on or near this river: the coal-miner fishing in the foothills stream; the little girl roller-skating in a hotel above the river; the young farmers exchanging labour; the fur trader following a moonlight-coloured horse; the Belgian lawyer homesteading alone in Saskatchewan; Doukhobors making linen by the river’s Great Bend; sons of Batoche threshing grain; and so many more.”

He said he visited several of the areas he wrote about, including making a stop in Prince Albert last year for a poetry reading.

“Even if it’s not sort of obvious in the descriptions, just kind of being there and appreciating it comes through, fleshes out my understanding of the place,” he said.

The last third of the collection, however, strays from the topic of the river. Those poems are about a variety of topics.

Elves said he started writing when he was a teenager.

He studied Classics, literature and language in university, but never took any creative writing classes because he “didn’t want to follow any sort of official trends.”

In 1991, he founded the Edmonton Stroll of Poets Society, in which he served as treasurer for several years. Elves describes it as a “democratic” group that gives poets of all experience levels a chance to share their work.

“We all need that opportunity to have an audience,” he said.

Although he’s been writing poetry for decades, he’s never been in a rush to have anything published.

“I wanted to have a substantial collection of river poems before I published anything. I didn’t want to have River Poems One, River Poems Two, River Poems Three. I might still do that because I’m still going to be writing, but I didn’t want to partial it out,” explained Elves.

Riverlines: Poems of Time and Space Along the North Saskatchewan River is available from most online retailers, including Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble and the FriesenPress bookstore. It’s also available as an e-book on Kobo, GooglePlay and Apple Books.