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Poetry English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh


by (author) Jenna Butler

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2012
English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2012
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2015
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Jenna Butler draws on her own experiences of her grandmother's disappearance into senile dementia to reassemble a sensual world in longpoem form that positively crackles with imagery and rhythm. Identities and memories flow and flicker as she strings together fragments of narrative into stories that comprise one woman's life. It entwines her disappearing life with that of the persona of the woman's granddaughter through a choreographed confusion of identities: of she's and I's. Few poets could execute this with convincing solemnity, while simultaneously recovering the dignity of the sufferer and her loved ones. Butler does. Poetry lovers, critics and scholars, and readers who crave a deft style charged with honest emotion should read Wells.

About the author

Jenna Butler is the author of three critically acclaimed books of poetry, Seldom Seen Road (NeWest Press, 2013), Wells (University of Alberta Press, 2012) and Aphelion (NeWest Press, 2010); an award-winning collection of ecological essays, A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge the of Grizzly Trail (Wolsak and Wynn, 2015); and a poetic travelogue, Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard (University of Alberta Press, 2018).

Butler's research into endangered environments has taken her from America's Deep South to Ireland's Ring of Kerry, and from volcanic Tenerife to the Arctic Circle onboard an ice-class masted sailing vessel, exploring the ways in which we impact the landscapes we call home. A professor of creative writing and environmental writing at Red Deer College, she lives with seven resident moose and a den of coyotes on an off-grid organic farm in Alberta's North Country.

Jenna Butler's profile page


  • AAUP Book, Jacket & Journal Show - Jacket & Covers

Editorial Reviews

"The poems use a rich, sensual vocabulary of flora & fauna, delineating each separate item of once loved & now lost local life, now retrieved by the poet to make manifest the world the remembered grandmother can no longer say into being.... Wells is a beautifully sad acknowledgement of the losses all must face, made deeply personal & universal through its sharply observed images of a life now gone. It's a fine example of how to take lyric & shake it into something beyond the merely personal." Eclectic Ruckus, March 23, 2012 [Full post at]

The poems in Wells are all written in the second person, and, by addressing the grandmother who eventually will no longer recognize her, Butler creates not an elegy but an intimate dialogue. She not only speaks to her grandmother but also speaks for her, turning fragments of memory and family lore into a winding narrative of Muriel Butler's life, from childhood to old age. - See more at:, Jennifer Delisle, Arc Poetry Magazine, July 25, 2013

Interview with Jenna Butler on CBC

"This cover stood out from the others because its design is evocative of a place and feeling and not otherwise illustrative or symbolic." AAUP's Book, Jacket, and Journal Show, Jury Comments, 2013

"[Wells] contains atmospheric and beautiful prose-poems about [poet Jenna Butler's] English grandmother. Those who have been to the area around Wells-next-the-Sea will appreciate how well Butler evokes East Anglia with its coastal lands, where 'the North sea speaks carefully around a mouthful of flints,' and its wide skies over the saltmarshes with birds riding the wind - 'a linnet in aerobatic flight, its song pealing like rain'. But even for those who do not know the locality, Butler's poems will surely conjure them as clearly as she portrays the terrifying swarm of hornets in barley fields that few of us could ever have imagined: 'Nothing saved you from those lividly buzzing fields, not wellingtons to the knee, not the mad frenzied dash affected at each humming cataclysm.'" Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, London Grip [Full review at]

"Similarly emphasizing the close connections among place, identity, and loss, Jenna Butler's Wells memorializes a grandmother living with Alzheimer's disease by evoking the sounds,smells, and textures of the English village on the North Sea where she has spent her life... Meticulously crafted, the book consists of eight sections of six poems each in which Butler charts the stages of her grandmother's 'vanish[ing]' and shores up the details of her world in long-lined stanzas of varying lengths.... Butler's emphasis on the persistence of her grandmother's embodied identity here is politically important."

Canadian Literature

"Jenna Butler blurs the boundaries of identity in Wells." Off the Shelf, Geist, Summer 2012

"[Wells] explores the structure of the prose-poem, and the prairie narrative stretched out as long as a line can follow. Arranged in poem-sections, the poem-fragments hold up as a series of family photographs either blurry or apocryphal, and write the prairie sentence/long line with exquisite grace." rob mclennan's blog, March 19, 2012 [Full posting at]

"In a fragmented, sensory assemblage, Butler witnesses her grandmother's disappearance into dementia. The loss of language is not tidy. Post-it notes are found in 'arcane places.'... Wells is a beautiful homage to a beloved grandparent, but also a poignant and gently persistent inquiry into peripheral loss. Butler gets at the difficulty of 'seeing our own lives erased' from another's memory, and how that leaves us 'left doubting, in a deep place, the truth of our own existence.'" Shawna Lemay, Edmonton Journal, April 7, 2012 [Full article at]

"[English-Canadian poet Jenna Butler] speaks on rural life as well as the family life that we all share... Wells is a charming read..." Wisconsin Bookwatch, May 2012

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