The Tantramar Revisited

New Brunswick’s Tantramar poets literally “revisited” and advanced the environment-as-total-field perspective of the earlier Confederation poets. Whereas the confessional poets (Alden Nowlan and Elizabeth Brewster) placed human vulnerabilities at the centre of that total field, the Tantramar group redoubled interest in landscape-as-landscape, thus re-mythologizing New Brunswick space in ways similar to how Tantramar painter Alex Colville did – and as later photographer Thaddeus Holownia would do.

Their work seeks to enter landscape; that is, to enter into dialogue with an environment that is not just dominant but, because of its configuration (long sloping grasslands that go down to the sea), envelopes humans in its contours. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Charles G.D. Roberts pioneered his own period’s embrace of landscape in the same locale (the Parish of Westcock).


Beginning with John Thompson, the Tantramar writers entered landscape by literally going into the marsh to meet wilderness on wilderness’s terms. Attempting to articulate what they found, they brought language to its crisis point, either exhausting its potential or coming up against its limitations. Their work, as a result, is often characterized by gaps and silences, the interval or lacuna becoming the space across which humans cannot reach. In their forays into wilderness, the Tantramar writers should be read as some of the earliest pioneers of eco-poetics in Canada.


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