Friday, May 5, 2023

Moira Walsh and Shantell Powell : Digital Mountains, Ink in the Sink

on virtually residing at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (February 6–17, 2023)
(with a postscript from participant Carla Stein,




Moira Walsh is a bilingual poet, translator, and copywriter. She was the Anne-Marie Oomen Literary Fellow at Poetry Forge and has two forthcoming chapbooks: Earthrise (Penteract Press, June 2023) and, with Wilfried Schubert, Do Try This at Home (Femme Salvé Books, April 2024). Moira’s favorite animal is the endangered Saimaannorppa, and her makeshift website is



Shantell Powell is a two-spirit author, artist, and swamp hag. She is the Yosef Wosk VMI Fellow for 2023, a SpecFic fellow at the 2023 Roots Wounds Words Winter Retreat, and a graduate of the Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University and the LET(s) Lead Academy at Yale University. She has a BA in Classics and English drama at the University of New Brunswick. Her writing is in Augur, Feminist Studies Journal, Prairie Fire, Yellow Medicine Journal, and more. When she’s not writing or making things, she’s wrangling chinchillas or getting filthy in the woods. You can find her online at or at her sporadically-updated blog:


Moira Walsh: Shan, neither of us have been to Banff. How did you discover this opportunity? And what made you say “YES, sign me up”?

Shantell Powell: Much of my childhood was spent amongst mountains – the Appalachians of New Brunswick and Newfoundland, and the Rockies of British Columbia. Maybe I was hoping that a virtual residency through Banff would let me experience digital mountains…

MW: Now that you mention it, I did feel kind of lightheaded at first…

SP: I’d been on the Banff Centre mailing list for a few years, applied for in-person workshops, didn’t get accepted. Now that I have more publishing credits, the powers-that-be probably thought I was ready. Doing a residency online is also much more economically viable for me. Travel is expensive, especially if you don’t land those sweet, sweet grants.

MW: Yep, transatlantic flight tickets would have been a barrier for me. Luckily, someone named rob mclennan shared the announcement on social media. “Residency” had an elegant aura, “online” felt feasible, and Kate Siklosi had been on my radar since rob published this festschrift. Both she and Dani Spinosa had author photos with awesome lipstick. I started off brave and bold, but soon found the application daunting. In fact, I put it off – and almost missed the deadline.

SP: I try to look at application processes for grants and residencies as creative exercises. I don’t like tooting my own horn, but I can put myself into the persona of someone who does when filling out all those interminable forms.

MW: That’s a great approach, Shan. Your tooting horn reminds me: When I told people I’d been accepted into this program, some of them were very confused. An online residency? Aren’t residencies a reason to leave home and inhabit a special, art-friendly place? How is “online residency” not a paradox?

SP: I’ve basically lived online since 1989, back in the days of 300-baud modems and BBSs. I think it’s just as easy to reside online as it is to reside somewhere in meatspace. The Banff residency was not my first online residency, but my fourth, and I will be doing more of them in the future.

MW: This was my first residency of any kind. I’m a freelance translator, so it was tempting to keep working on the side, especially since I was at my desk hours before the other participants woke up. But I wisely toot-tooted that I had “received a scholarship” and was “at a residency.” All my clients respected this, so I was free to swim in a creative river. With rapids. Two weeks whooshed by. What did you especially enjoy during this time, or what surprised you?

I loved watching words and pull quotes from each of the writers incorporated into visual art. They were snipped out and put into petri dishes, and then ink and water were added. The words and ink made beautiful compositions, in a sort of fluid concrete poetry.

MW: Oh, yes. Kate’s presentation floored me. (Long speechless pause)

SP: What other moments stood out to you?

MW: My one-to-ones with Dani and Kate, the participant readings, the almost-daily check-ins with East Coast early birds. And Dani’s presentation: a cerebral work of art. And not being able to SLEEP because my tender nervous system was flooded with JOY. Speaking of one-to-one conversations, what were yours like? What topics came up?

SP: I talked about a novella I’ve been working on, which is loosely based upon the Grimm’s fairy tale called The Golden Key. I’m reinterpreting it as a gothic tale set in early 1970s New Brunswick. My conversations with Dani and Kate made me realize that I want to do a collection of stories in that setting, based upon strange occurrences I experienced growing up in rural mountain communities there. The conversation led me on a research journey which landed a few delicious new books on my lap. I look forward to learning more about superstitions, folk magic, and how settler beliefs interact with Mi’kmaq and Maliseet culture. For some reason, there doesn’t seem to be a strong literary tradition about the history of the Maritime provinces. I want to tackle this omission. New Brunswick Gothic, here I come!

MW: Sounds like a plan! What were your hopes or expectations before starting the residency? And what happened to them?

SP: I had no idea what to expect. I did hope to get a lot of writing done. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well throughout the residency, so I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I’d hoped to. That being said, I did receive excellent feedback and got at least some writing and editing done.

MW: My declared intent was to do serious work on my first full-length manuscript. This crampy expectation quickly dissolved, however. So much shifted for me in those first two days. I rediscovered the joy of open-ended experimentation. My desk and room got cleaner, since I was “having people over.” Yeah, only on video, but so what? I’ll take motivation wherever I may find it. My concept of “valid residency work” broadened. I found myself buying unfamiliar art supplies. For my visual poem, I made multiple batches of cookies, adjusting the ratios until the embossed results satisfied me. I was playfully engrossed in new media: low-tech letterpress, edible words, autocomplete texts… Did you notice a change in your physical space or energy level or anything?

SP: I had to restructure my gym schedule a bit to accommodate for the online meetups, but aside from that, very little changed for me. I am basically a full-time writer, so aside from the two one-on-one sessions with Kate and Dani and the online readings, it felt like business as usual.

MW: What was it like being “the only novel writer” in our group?

SP: Honestly, I felt a bit out of place. Although I’m working in slipstream, which is a pretty unfamiliar genre for most folks, I felt a little old-fashioned in comparison to the other literary artists. It was interesting to see so many process-oriented writers. A lot of fiction writers and publishers are scandalized by the use of AI-generated text, but I was intrigued to see it being used as a sort of literary paintbrush, and not as a proxy for human creativity. I also enjoyed watching the ephemeral nature of process-based literary art, where words were employed in mixed-media installations which were then destroyed. Although I don’t see how I can use it as a novelist, I enjoyed the vastly different approach to writing. What was it like for you, “the only writer based in Europe,” 8 hours ahead of Banff?

MW: I missed connecting with several people whose schedules didn’t match my awake hours. I also missed many of the spontaneous meetups. The Earth is big and round, and I really can’t fault her for that.

SP: As you know, I regularly work with other writers online, particularly in co-writing groups where we share a digital room to work on our own projects in community with one another. This goes a long way toward keeping me accountable to my writing practice. Did the online residency experience change anything for you?

MW: Peer support and accountability were built into the residency – and now I miss that. But the main change post-residency is that I feel more friendly towards myself. More relaxed. There’s no wrong way to be a writer. Now I’m having more fun. Courageous fun. I’m making a point to meet local authors in person – a new adventure for this introvert. Just yesterday, I visited the writers’ center here in Stuttgart and the director invited me to launch my first chapbook there! I’m taking her up on it.

SP: In February, I was around 50,000 words into my novel. Now I’m around 72,000 words into my cli-fi slipstream novel, around 10,000 words into a New Brunswick gothic novella, and have had several poems and short stories accepted for publication by a variety of literary journals and anthologies. I continue to write book reviews for Cloud Lake Literary and will be doing yet another online residency with Carousel Magazine this summer where I will be a featured book reviewer. One of my most recent reviews was so well-liked by the publisher and author that they are quoting me in their promotional materials. Woohoo!

MW: Congratulations, Shan! Many thanks for this collaboration.



A postscript from participant Carla Stein

CS: An in-person residency would have likely been impossible, so this online option gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet other writers and poets. The atmosphere was a good mix of attending presentations, connecting directly with participants, and having access to research materials. I liked that we were largely self-directed throughout the two weeks – and that there was no pressure to “produce”.

The mentoring from both Dani and Kate, as well as the faculty presentations they gave, were to the point with ideas about how to configure a manuscript, and full of advice and encouragement. Following the residency, I have finished formatting a manuscript and a chapbook, and have submitted both. Now I’m waiting to hear back from those publishers.

MW: Best of luck, Carla, and thanks for sharing your reflections!


Carla Stein enjoys cooking up stuff like veggies, poems, paintings, and illustrations from her home and studio in Nanaimo, Canada. She shares her poems and paintings in public, but the veggies are shy and prefer to stay in the garden or kitchen. Her work appears in pamphlets, poetry collections, on walls, and virtually in places like The Belladonna, Stonecoast Review, The Lotus Tree Literary Review, Penumbric, and NonBinary Review. Her work is forthcoming in Watch Your Head. Carla contributed to a renku, Quantum Entanglement, which was nominated for a 2022 Pushcart Prize. She is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets and the current artistic director of Wordstorm Society of the Arts. You can find examples of her visual musings at:






Many thanks to the generous anonymous donors who gave us full scholarships.

Peek inside our virtual studios: Download a free PDF of the Antholozine, published by Gap Riot Press. 

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