About the Project

This series of poems began during a writing retreat in Flatrock, NL, where I walked to a popular swimming hole each morning. Disturbed by the amount of garbage there, I started carrying home a bag full of litter after each swim. I wrote poems about my experience at the swimming hole using text transcribed from this garbage, allowing my writing to be shaped by the limited vocabulary of beer cans, fast food, candy wrappers, and other trash. Every word in this series of poems, with the exception of the titles, was found on a piece of garbage. Words were repeated or combined, but not shortened.

The poems focus on the experience of swimming outdoors, which is one of the things that has brought me joy throughout years of chronic illness. Many people I’ve been swimming with have talked about how swimming is one of the few times they feel at ease in their bodies. Especially when those bodies are sick or queer or in some way non-conforming. There’s something about wild swimming, a kind of exuberant embodiment, that can be transformative. This has been what I refer to as “survival joy”—an experience of body-based joy that I seek out when I am struggling to feel pleasure or happiness in everyday life. Near St. John’s, this kind of swimming is spectacular and limited to a few months of the year. I write these poems for the same reasons I pick berries and make jam—this is my survival joy and I’m going to need it to get through the winter.

When I thought about illustrations for this project, I immediately thought of April White and their watercolour paintings of everyday objects. I had a brochure from their A Day In The Life Of exhibition at The Rooms on my fridge—a watercolour painting of a milk carton and other food on a kitchen table. I’m not sure if I came up with the idea of illustrating the poems and then thought of April’s work, or whether looking at April’s work every day seeded the idea for illustrating the series. Once I’d imagined beer cans and chip bags painted by April, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Matthew Hollett (writer, artist, web designer) first imagined an interactive website and has done the web design for this project. He brought to life my request for a tool that would allow other people to try their hand at making poems out of garbage, or to use any found text as a source for poetry.

Poems from the Garbage Poems series were shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize, won an NL Arts and Letters Award, were chosen as Editor’s Choice for the Arc Poem of the Year, appear in Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry, and have been published in various other journals.

Additional poems from the project:

Read more about the project:

About the Contributors

Anna Swanson

Anna Swanson

Anna Swanson (she/her) is a queer writer and librarian living in Ktaqmkuk/St. John’s, NL. Her writing is interested in themes of chronic illness, concussion, embodiment, identity, queerness, and survival joy. Her first book of poetry, The Nights Also (Tightrope Books, 2010), won the Gerald Lampert Award and a Lambda Literary Award. Her writing has appeared in various anthologies including In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry, The Best Canadian Poetry in English, Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis, Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and Impact: Women Writing After Concussion. She works with Riddle Fence as a poetry editor, and loves swimming outdoors in all seasons.

Anna’s Website

April White

April White

April White (they/them) works with watercolour, print media, performance, and animation. They hold a BFA from Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of NL (2012) and spent much of their art career in St. John’s, NL. April is currently an MFA Studio Arts candidate at Concordia with a concentration in Print Media. April is an award-winning artist whose work has exhibited extensively in the east coast of Canada. Their artwork considers the performance of the self in everyday life and seeks to name and upend personally and socially damaging neoliberal rhetoric around hustle culture. April lives with their cat, Coconut, in Montréal and really likes banana bread, long meandering phone calls with friends, and rewatching favourite tv shows.

April’s Website

Matthew Hollett

Matthew Hollett

Matthew Hollett (he/him) is a writer, photographer and web designer in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Ktaqmkuk). His work explores landscape and memory through photography, writing and walking. Optic Nerve, a collection of poems about photography and seeing, is forthcoming from Brick Books in 2023. Matthew’s first book, Album Rock (2018), is a work of creative nonfiction and poetry investigating a curious photograph taken in Newfoundland in the 1850s. He won the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize for “Tickling the Scar,” a poem about walking the Lachine Canal during the early days of the pandemic.

Matthew’s Website