Earth Day has passed, but Poetry Month lasts all April

I feel guilty for not posting anything on Earth Day. It’s the one day that I should drop everything and write. This is a biodiversity site, after all. But on Saturday, I had gone hiking along a series of highland rolling mountains outside of Istanbul near a ski-resort in Kartepe. By the time Earth Day came along, I was still avoiding my computer. Sometimes all you can do is stick to old-fashioned books on Earth Day. To make up for it, I’d like to celebrate America’s National Poetry Month, instead. Even though I don’t technically live in the U.S., I still find its monthly causes for celebration endearing. April won’t end for another few days, so I haven’t missed the deadline, yet.

When we think about nature and poetry, the knee-jerk reaction is to think of the English Romantic poets such as Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tennyson (some of which are described here). However, their sublime view of nature and lofty diction may no longer appeal to contemporary audiences. Our relationship to nature has become more complicated. Namely, plastic and chemical pollution, climate change and mass extinction leave us with the feeling that nature is under siege by contemporary society. And it’s a society we participate in, so we may feel a form of guilt or complicity if we care about the environment. Nature writers are shifting their perspectives. Contemporary poets are addressing these issues head on, as shown by the recent anthology, Big Energy Poets: Ecopoetry thinks Climate ChangeFrom contemplating plastic pollution to questioning the body’s relationship to the earth, poets are not blinded by the dream for green pastures, they’re writing to process and feel through the quagmire we face.

7bc7b37632-d464-46e9-afa2-b1157077243f7dimg400One of the most well-known environmental poets of our time is Gary Snyder. I have a personal affinity to him because he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, like myself. His poetry is that of an environmental activist wishing to reorient the way we think about nature from a philosophical basis, with allusions to indigenous people’s ways of life and Zen Buddhism. With his ties to Beat poetry, his exploration of psychedelic drugs, and his close connection to California, he strikes me as a quintessential hippy-poet. Nevertheless, he’s worth reading because he addresses contemporary society head on in books like No Nature and Turtle Island.

9780819577191Another exciting name in eco-poetry is Camille Dungy. She was a professor, while I was attending San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing MFA program. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to take any of her classes–they were always fully booked by the poetry majors! Yet, her work is a breath of fresh air for anyone who assumes that nature poetry is mostly an art for dead white poets. She uses nature in her poetry through her own inter-sectional lens as a black female poet. I’m looking forward to checking out her most recent collection of poems, Trophic Cascade. She also edited a necessary collection of poems entitled, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.

And if you’re wondering what exactly “trophic cascade” means in scientific terms, this image gives a pretty good description:

29358559Another poet, whose work is completely infused with nature is Mary Oliver. Verging on a religious devotion to nature, her work reveals the sacred dimension of the environment. Her best-selling collection of essays, Upstream: Selected Essays, describes her journey. At age 81, she’s seen a lot and many of these essays have already been published elsewhere, but having them all in one place allows us to reconsider this poet’s life of letters.

nature-poem-cover-rgbAnd while native Americans are often revered for their own spiritual relationship to nature, Kumeyaay Tommy Pico writes poetry that challenges the noble savage stereotype. His book Nature Poem centers on Teebs, a native, queer poet who can’t bring himself to write a nature poem. His poetry collection, Junk, offers us the nature poetry of the present-day because it is infused with plastic trash, social media and pop culture references.

But if sitting down and reading a book of poetry isn’t your thing, consider checking out these Spoken Word nature poets who perform their work.

Finally, why not write your own nature poem? Though the deadline has passed, each year The Rialto sponsors the Nature and Place Poetry Competition. Now is a great time to start working on your entry for 2019.

Do you have a list of your own favorite nature books, poems or poets? Please share them in the comments!


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