Simply Where We Live
April 22, 2019
This essay is part of a series in which Poetry Northwest partners with Seattle Arts & Lectures to present reflections on visiting writers from our 2018/19 Poetry Series. Francisco Aragón and Kimiko Hahn will read to celebrate the release of HERE: Poems for the Planet at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, at Broadway Performance Hall. Tickets are still available here!
By Alex Madison
A confession: In the service of my own curiosity, I have wasted the time of environmental scientists.
I’ve sent emails requesting informational interviews, as research for my novel and essays, and been surprised when generous professors and Ph.D. students have written back. Over the phone, over coffee, and over cluttered desks with glimmering Lake Union views, they have eloquently described their fields and patiently fielded my probing about our world’s impending doom.
Because my projects remain unfinished, these discussions remain unshared—inflected with a personal quality in my memory, like old conversations with friends. One woman spoke about traveling with teenagers to plant grasses along riverbanks. The hope: for grasses to shade the waters, cool the salmon habitat, and create conditions for spawning and survival. A young man spent his summer on Mount Rainier, planting identical gardens up and down the volcano’s microclimates. He fenced out nibbling deer, then returned ritualistically to see how well each elevation nurtured each species. His voice quickened as he described a then-fledgling effort to track tourists’ geo-tagged photos of wildflower blooms. When the snow melts, meadows blossom. People come. Snapshots swell into year-over-year climate data.
Grasses. Gardens. Wildflowers. These were moves like poems, I thought. Concrete gestures toward beauty, fragile investments in progress. Literal seeds sown.
Reading the new anthology from Copper Canyon Press, Here: Poems for the Planet, I was reminded of those tourists tagging their photos and those kids planting their grass. This book, too, offers its small, hopeful gifts to the world.
Edited by poet and activist Elizabeth J. Coleman, the anthology was conceived as a “lovesong to a planet in crisis.” The scope of the collaboration is impressive. It was supported by a crowdfunding effort of 461 backers and collects “more than 125 poems”: the words of kids, Poet Laureates, Pulitzer-winners, and celebrated poets writing all over the world. The book opens with a one-page forward by Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, and ends with a 37-page “Guide to Activism by the Union of Concerned Scientists.” Yes: in these pages, scientists write to poets—and to all of us who love poems. We are sharing common language, looking at the same marvelous, embattled world together and wanting it to stay.