Nature poetry, green poetry, eco poetry—it goes by many names. Call it what you will, a nature poem at its very best engages and considers our place on the planet we all share. From the deep time of our oral traditions, from Hesiod to Major Jackson, nature has been the recurring, if not primary, subject of poetry throughout human experience. Yet, as Gary Snyder pointed out in No Nature, it “will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions” and “will dodge our expectations and theoretical models.” Perhaps it’s our ephemeral understanding of nature—relative and historically determined, affected by our ideologies and literary conventions, social and cultural ideas, as well as by our hubris and naïvete—that keeps poets and poetry lovers going.
As an Upper Peninsula poet, my own urge to describe the natural world can sometimes feel obsessive. Nose to nature as we are here, nature is inescapable and immediate, so how could I write a poem otherwise? Somewhere in every poem I’ve penned, the wind and waves of Lake Superior, the perfume of white pine and cedar, my encounters with black bear and brook trout, 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock under my heels, and the languages of the Anishinaabeg, French, English, Finnish (among others) rippling just under the surface of my desire to understand and articulate. Still, engaging with the natural world remains so vitally urgent. There are so many ongoing, human-scaled crises at present—our reckoning with settler colonialism and institutionalized racism, 6 million people lost globally to COVID, the tug of war between authoritarianism and democracy. Looming over all of that, the not so human-scaled, downhill slide of the Anthropocene and global climate change. How does a poet even begin to engage that? I suppose a poet begins at home, finding the right words to sound the alarm, speak truth to greed and avarice, or offer solace and hope to those who can’t themselves find the words. Perhaps, here in the U.P., afloat in the middle of the Great Lakes Basin, a poet begins alongside the water with gratitude, respect, and love. After all, water is life, and life seems a good place to stop and stretch out for a spell.
For Art Week, I’m joined by four fellow, esteemed poets—Kimberly M. Blaeser, Michelle Menting, Margaret Noodin, and Keith Taylor— for a poetry installation along Marquette’s lakeshore trail. At intervals marked on the map, you’ll find posters designed by Hancock-based graphic designer, Chris Schmidt (Studio 13), each featuring an original water poem by one of the aforementioned poets, along with a QR code. Follow the QR code to learn more about the installation, poet biographies, and to listen to a recording of each poet reading their poem while you enjoy the spectacular view.