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Diane Guichon

Poet paddles her way to Calgary award
Ruth Myles, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, May 18, 2008

Five thousand dollars would buy more than a lifetime's worth of magnetic poetry kits, the kind that can be found on fridges in many a Calgary home.

Not quite what Diane Guichon has in mind for the cash award that comes along with being named winner of The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Award prize for 2007. Guichon's winning book, Split Birch Bark, is a collection of poetry linked through canoe.

"It would be nice to put some away for research," Guichon says, but the reality of parenting three children "in various stages of being educated" will likely eat up a large chunk of the prize.

Pity, since one of the ideas for a follow-up book is tracking down canoe-themed Canadian poetry for a collection. Guichon, who recently received her master's and teaches effective writing at the U of C, came across plenty of fodder for such a collection during her research for Birch Split Bark.

"There's not one collection. I have to go hunting for them. Now, with readings, people will come up and talk about them. Roberta (Rees, a fellow book award nominee) told me by about one by Michael Ondaatje."

In her debut, Guichon, 52, tells the story of a family of four through its relationship to canoeing.

"Even though 80 per cent of us live in urban centres, we think that Canadians engage with nature, and the canoe is a means of doing that. It' a play against the traditional canoe metaphor, to move it more towards the urban centre and how we live today."

Guichon has another manuscript in the works, Grass Cuttings, which explores the nature-suburban divide.

"I'm still playing against that notion that as Canadians, we see ourselves as naturalists," Guichon says, before adding with a laugh, "I think most of us experience nature in the backyard."