#YEG: Alice Major

A celebrated poet revels in Edmonton’s summer twilight.

Illustration Michael Byers

My Edmonton is not a place but a time – summer twilight, those magic hours when light and scent become almost the same thing. When spires of lilac are soft cathedrals the colour of evening sky. When you are dizzy with fragrance, not just of lilac, but iris and maiden-pink and the lingering tang of mayday trees.

“Every poet has a particular twilight in his soul,” wrote Derek Walcott. He was describing the brooding “Marchember” dusk of a great Russian writer. But my twilight is this time when a northern summer is spinning towards the solstice.

I try to keep this unfashionable poetic preference tucked away and write poems about October’s concrete and January’s office towers. But in May and June, my secret romantic gushes out – I want to write Victorian verses with words like “gloaming” and “faerie.”

It probably goes back to my childhood near Loch Lomond in Scotland, which is on exactly the same latitude as Edmonton, and so it has the same long evenings when you are sent to bed and can’t possibly go to sleep. In a childhood book of tales, I read “Chew fern seed and put it on your eyelids and you will see the invisible” and went off looking for fern seed. Absurdly, of course. Ferns don’t have seeds, so they were as invisible as the elves I longed to see.

When we first came to Canada, it was to Toronto, 10 degrees of latitude further south. Even in early summer, the sun sets a full hour earlier there than it does here. I welcomed the quicker darkness as a release from muggy afternoons, but some of the magic was gone. Only when I came back to 53 degrees of latitude did I rediscover the enchanted light from my childhood.

Now the ferns in my garden are unfurling again and my inner romantic is out, hunting for invisible elves under the lilac.

Alice Major is president of the Edmonton Poetry Festival. She was the City’s first poet laureate from 2005 to 2007.

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