In our last post, we explored how the  2021 Creatives in Residence, artist collective Alchemy, brings artists and cooks together in community settings. They believe the sharing of art and food makes a difference on two fronts: in the community itself, and in the creative practices of the artists and makers they collaborate with.  In this blog, Alchemy takes you behind the scenes to visit one of their collaboratorswriter Jane Macdonald. 

What does being a writer in residence look like? Jane says, “It looks like some sitting, some walks through town and in the woods, and lots of looking.”

Jane Macdonald is currently at work on a short manuscript of forty poems, the final requirement of a certificate in poetry from the University of Toronto (U of T). In 2020, Jane was awarded the Janice Colbert prize for poetry, an award for which she was first named as runner-up in 2019. 

She says, “My writing is saturated by the inhabitants and habits of a place marked by disappearance and loss. For a thousand years, people have lived and died here. Responding to the rhythms of season, the original peoples planted and harvested, and stored up what the water and land yielded to them. You can see these rhythms  in the remnants of the seasonal eel fishery on Pleasant Bay, in old settlement above Lake Consecon, and in the numerous granaries and burial mounds located across the county. 

Hundreds of years later, more people arrived. Drawn here by fisheries, fertile land, and settled by British government fiat, the Loyalist cemeteries are everywhere. Newer arrivals laid down the railwaynow the Millennium Trailto connect canneries to fields and orchards, and beyond to larger markets. Very old ladies recall hopping onto the train in the mornings, and getting off at the school near Hillier. 

The Hall itself at Hillier dates to 1867 and its service since then as the people’s houses can be seen in the photos and plaques on its thick limestone walls. 

The tens of thousands of birds who make landfall every spring on this near-southernmost shore of the great Lake Ontario show us that life persists even as many individuals do not make it. Their journey is not really that different from our own. In this year of record heat and wildfire, extreme drought and flooding, we see the dire stakes of heedlessness. And so I look and write, sometimes in celebration, sometimes in grief.”

Jane is using her time as a guest artist in the production of her manuscript, revising existing poems and creating new ones. She offers, “I am not so concerned about the poems’ subjectsmostly I am eager to try new ways of writing by copying certain craft techniques and to try out others’ poetics. I will look at the poems of Seamus Heaney, and Elizabeth Bishop, and the poems and essays of Anne Carson and Jane Hirshfield.” Also an avid baker, Jane has contributed her delicious culinary skills to the Table Settings kitchen. 

We asked Jane to share her kitchen observations with us. 

“During my stint in the kitchen for ‘Table Settings,’ I’ve loved the chance to once again work with food in large quantities.

These great lashings of lentils and bundles of rhubarbthey demand your proper care. I love how cooking for forty people plunges you momentarily outside time, until you emerge, meal prepared, hopefully tasty, hopefully on time. I love the surrender.

Time and attention are at the heart of art-making. As a writer, as with all artists, I think a big part of our job is to take care of our attention. And I mean all the timein front of the page and away from it, there’s no difference, it’s one life. We pay attention because everything we notice as we move through our day, is what goes into our art. And so I enjoy standing before and considering a flat of strawberries. 

I start by easing them from their quart baskets into the big colander. Then it’s showering them under the tap to remove the dandelion fluffs, gently tumbling them onto my work surface, being careful not to crush their fragrant flesh.

 And though there are hundreds of berries to process in a flat, I pick up each one and address it with paring in mind. I remove each green cap. Then it’show many cuts? Five? One? Is that only a bruise, or is it too far gone and will I pare it off, to produce a shape and size that will be easy for eating, in time? Each trimmed piece goes into the big stainless steel bowl where I lightly sugar them to draw out their ruby juice. 

And then they are lifted out of the gigantic bowl and portioned. Forty clear plastic packages range down one of the harvest tables in Closson Chase’s kitchenmany, single servings for every, one person. Berry by berry, the flat moves through my hands and into the hands and the mouth of the one I am cooking for, the one returned for the day from the vineyard, hungry. Intimate attention, transitory.”

You can check out our full list of 2021 Creatives in Residence here.

Related Articles

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Events

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an opportunity for Canadians to engage in a dialogue of understanding and healing – to acknowledge the truth, foster reconciliation, and work together to build a better future.

Exploring the Meaning of Home

What does "Home" mean to you? This question lies at the heart of #APlaceICallHomeHalton, a community art project led by media artist Faisal Anwar.

Press Release: Ontario Culture Days Festival 2023

Ontario Culture Days Festival Begins September 22 With Over 1,000+ Arts & Culture Events

“Fables in Yarn” Zine

Alisa McRonald is a contemporary textile artist who experiments with themes of folklore, fables and the esoteric. Check out Alisa’s zine to learn about about her project!

Contributors – Rituals for Belonging

Myung-Sun Kim’s ongoing project, ‘Rituals for Belonging’ invites artists of various disciplines to share rituals that may recall joy, desire, and belonging.

Messages in the Public Realm

Owen Marshall is an artist and printmaker based in Toronto. His work examines the way text and signage influence the surrounding environment. Here, he's interviewed by Dave Dyment about the ideas behind his Creative in Residence project.

ChoreoSensing Public Spaces within Residential Neighbourhoods

Whether it’s urban or suburban areas in cities, public spaces in residential areas are fundamental to everyday life experiences which have been linked to the well-being and quality of life of residents.

Press Release: Creatives in Residence and Festival Hubs

Ontario Culture Days Festival Begins September 22 With Over 1,000+ Arts & Culture Events


Creative in Residence Juliane Foronda on archive accessibility, the privilege of nostalgia, and how board games reflect social values.

maawanji’idiwag: they come together

Creative in Residence Chelsea Smith explores the threads of ancestral wisdom that bond and connect us all.