Stephanie Bolster, poet, editor and academic (born 1969 in Vancouver, BC). First as a young lyricist of prodigious talent and intellectual ambition and, later, as an editor and academic focused on problems of audience, empathy and public space, Governor General's Literary Award winner Stephanie Bolster has produced one of the most widely-praised bodies of work in contemporary Canadian poetry.
Apprenticeship and The Alice Poems
Raised in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, Bolster's poetry was honed at the University of British Columbia's creative writing program, where she earned both a BFA and MFA, and where her work was first recognized with a Norma Epstein Award, given annually to the best manuscript of creative writing written by a student at a Canadian university. This was followed after graduation with a Bronwen Wallace Award, given biannually to the best manuscript of poetry by an unpublished Canadian poet under the age of 35. Throughout this apprentice period, Bolster's work was aided by the editors of small literary magazines, notably Arc and Contemporary Verse 2. Also, Bolster's poems were included in the second edition of Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane's Breathing Fire anthology of young Canadian poets.
Though she had by the mid-1990s developed a well-regarded portfolio of loosely related poems, Bolster decided on a more thematic debut project, and settled on a suite of poems regarding the life of Alice Liddell, the young woman who served as inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The result was the critical success White Stone: The Alice Poems, which was published in 1998 by Vehicule Press and which is one of the few debut poetry collections to win the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry.
Collections with McClelland & Stewart and Brick Books
Sometimes lost amid White Stone's reputation as a poetic biography is that it is also ekphrastic (meaning a poem about a work of art), as Bolster's direct inspiration was a series of Alice Liddell portraits taken by Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. This ekphrastic element would move to the centre of Bolster's inquiry in future books. Her two collections with McClelland & Stewart (1999's Two Bowls of Milk and 2002's Pavilion) contain many poems that reflect on art. While her subjects include paintings by Vermeer and Jean Paul Lemieux, Bolster's ekphrastic period is most notable for stepping back from specific art objects to review both the whole procedure of looking, and the place of art in society. Her 1998 chapbook Inside a Tent of Skin (Mothertongue Press) is not only concerned with the nine pieces from the National Gallery of Canada that are the poems' nominal subjects, but with the greater anthropological concerns of gallery-going.
This reflectiveness eventually found a mature voice in 2011's A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth (Brick Books), where it is public space itself, and its accompanying public spectacles, that holds Bolster's interest. Her fourth collection was praised for its commitment to research and its density of ideas. Its subjects include not just works of art, but a whole host of displayed objects from parks, arcades, and - more than anything - zoos.
As an Editor
Bolster's mid-career interest in zoos can also be traced through her editorial work. She co-edited the anthology Penned: Zoo Poems (2009), which traces the consideration of zoos and domestic animals by poets as diverse as Ted Hughes, Margaret Atwood and A.K. Ramanujan. Her other editorial efforts include the late poet Diana Brebner's The Ishtar Gate: Last and Selected Poems (2004) and the first edition in Tightrope Books' Best Canadian Poetry anthology (2008).