I have had the good fortune of studying at Hollyhock nearly every year for twenty years, since I was fourteen years old. Though I also studied formally in universities, I can directly trace the most important shifts in what I do and how I think to brief and potent weeks each summer there: discovering Natalie Goldberg’s work as a teenager made me want to be a writer, and studying with Jan Zwicky as an exhausted grad student was the medicine I needed to keep going; dancing with Margie Gillis, Zoe Ryan, Alalade Frederick, Zuleikha, Soasis Sukuweh and Bettina Roth connected me to a moving ecology of thought that is the foundation of everything I do; conferences like Social Venture Institute and Media That Matters introduced me to brilliant people in the realms of business, media and activism, who share and inspire ever more passionate and creative approaches to ecological and social justice; and the opportunity to study with philosopher David Abram and biologist Rupert Sheldrake helped put all the pieces together.
These are just some of the programs I’ve been able to attend, to say nothing of the myriad ways I’ve been altered by the ocean, trees, flowers, wild winds and encounters of all kinds that weave a complex ecosystem that extends far beyond the time and place of these meetings.
But here’s the trick – the very things that I have cultivated at Hollyhock are the things that might make it the most difficult to attend Hollyhock, if it weren’t for the scholarship fund. As a poet and artist, I both credit and blame Hollyhock for its role in this beautiful and financially shaky life that I lead; I know I’m not unlike Hollyhock itself in this way.
However, the complex and healthy ecosystem that exists between Hollyhock and the people who love it means that it continues.
People who are at the start of their careers, or in the arts or activism, or doing other beautiful, low-paid work, can bring their riches to Hollyhock, and be given others. Beyond (and also including) money, vital exchange happens when people of all income brackets and stripes meet on the shared ground of Hollyhock.
These days, in addition to writing poetry, I teach writing at Humber College and in public libraries throughout Toronto. Most of my students have grown up in inner cities and spent almost no time in nature; recently while reading a poem that referenced the Milky Way, I realized that many of my students had not only not seen the Milky Way before, they didn’t know what it was.
This, I realized, is one of the ways ecological devastation is made systemically possible: disconnection.
My work in the classroom is focused on environmental literacy, critical thinking and empowerment through knowledge and writing.
Some days it feels a long way from poetry, from the ocean and the Hollyhock garden, but it isn’t; it’s intrinsically connected through a lifeline firmly rooted in ground prepared by teachers, experiences and time spent floating in the ocean looking up at the stars over Hollyhock, which has been my deepest education and biggest love.
I’m grateful with my whole life,
Erin Skye Robinsong
Read more scholarship impact stories here.
Donations made to the Hollyhock Annual Fund provide scholarships to youth, elders, professionals, teachers, emerging leaders, students, healers, artists and others who need your help to afford the full cost of attendance. The ripple effect is infinite.