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Magnetic North

Sea Voyage to Svalbard

by (author) Jenna Butler

read by Marysia Bucholc

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2019
Essays & Travelogues, Canadian, Ecology, Global Warming & Climate Change
Author lives in Alberta
This eBook meets EPUB Accessibility 1.0 specification and W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A, at a minimum.
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Aug 2018
    List Price

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“Windburned, eyes closed, this: beneath the keening of bergs, a deeper thresh of glaciers calving, creaking with sun. Sound of earth, her bones, wide russet bowl of hips splaying open. From these sere flanks, her desiccating body, what a sea change is born.” From the endangered Canadian boreal forest to the environmentally threatened Svalbard archipelago off the coast of Norway, Jenna Butler takes us on a sea voyage that connects continents and traces the impacts of climate change on northern lands. With a conservationist, female gaze, she questions explorer narratives and the mythic draw of the polar North. As a woman who cannot have children, she writes out the internal friction of travelling in Svalbard during the fertile height of the Arctic summer. Blending travelogue and poetic meditation on place, Jenna Butler draws readers to the beauty and power of threatened landscapes, asking why some stories in recorded history are privileged while others speak only from beneath the surface.

About the authors

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

Marysia Bucholc's profile page


  • Winner, AUPresses Book, Jacket, & Journal Show - Poetry and Literature
  • Short-listed, Trade Non-Fiction | Alberta Book Publishing Awards, Book Publishers Association of Alberta
  • Short-listed, INDIE Book of the Year Awards (Travel) | Foreword Reviews
  • Short-listed, Banff Mountain Book Competition; Mountain & Wilderness Literature – Fiction & Poetry

Editorial Reviews

"Magnetic North is a delight, perfect for amateur botanists, naturalists or simply admirers of Butler's astonishing gifts as a poet."

Shirley Roburn

“…an alternate view of the grandeur of Arctic nature, the paradox of Russian mining settlements in an area under Norwegian sovereignty, the critically endangered nature of the islands, how people respond to the extreme environment and living conditions in the Arctic, and a deep personal reflection on traveling to this part of the globe…” Ingo Heidbrink, The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4 [Full review at]

Ingo Heidbrink

# 3 on Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers list, December 01, 2018

# 7 on Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers list, August 16, 2018

# 1 on Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers list, January 13, 2019

Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers

"Magnetic North is a beautiful little book, full of moments of intense vision, but it’s also another ecological warning, couched in a poet’s deep understanding of what she has seen & recorded in our now changing north. Wholly engaging both emotionally & intellectually, it’s one of those books that truly adds to our understanding of the world we live in & continue to wound." [Full review at]

Eclectic Ruckus

"The remote island of Spitsbergen, on Norway’s northern Svalbard archipelago, provides the setting for Butler’s evocative ruminations on the harsh beauty at the edge of the world.... Butler’s book is not a standard travel narrative; rather, she wields poetic prose to describe a place that most humans will never visit. The result is highly recommended for lovers of poetry and nature writing."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

This is a beautiful series of portraits of place and time and captures ecological shifts, women who work in the places they're anchored and her own body’s experience of being on boat, dinghy and icy land.

Yvonne Blomer, 49th Shelf, March 28, 2022

"[Jenna Butler is an] acute observer and a precise and cogent writer... [Hers] is a journey motivated by curiosity about the north, and a longing for sights to be seen before they disappear forever. Her descriptions of settlements scattered between mainland Norway and the Arctic Circle are evocative: her prose is poetic, and her poems (interspersed in the text) are visual and concrete." [Full review at]

Canadian Literature