Poetry for me has been like early biology lessons of the salamander.  We’ve heard much lately about stem-cell research that may enable regeneration of human tissue. Such miracles have occurred in nature since the very beginning in the salamander. Salamanders, lizards, and other such creatures have the ability to regenerate limbs and other body parts. Actually, humans can as well. The very young have the ability to regrow a fingertip. Since I’m not a biologist, please do not ask me to define the process; but in de-differentiation, the cells become more like basic stem cells and can relearn what they need to regrow a fingertip. It is no wonder scientists are preoccupied with the possibilities of stem-cell research. My point here is regeneration, the human ability to start again after loss and trauma, to regrow, relearn, relive a good life. Through poetry, we don’t have to wait for scientists.

Through poetry, human beings can relive trauma, injury, catastrophe, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional, real or imagined, and reacquaint ourselves with our most inner resources, our ability to regenerate and manifest as whole again. Through poetry, we can better process our reactions to events, especially disasters, in the world, and react with a higher order of awareness. We don’t have to know what it takes to arrive at this new place, for poetry will assist us on our journey and deposit us safely, sometimes uncomfortably, in a new personal place of understanding. We can agree or disagree; we can remain in shallow waters or dive deeply. Through the experience in poetry, our inner vision is awakened.

It is through verse that we make some sense of our world. Poets are not just journalists snapping photos. Poetry weaves words to record not just what happens but what sense we can make of it, what is important for us to consider, what is good for us to keep.

 

Excerpted from Disasters, Nature and Poetry by Mona Lisa Saloy: Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

Poetically speaking, growing up is mediocrity
– Ned Rorem

Neither rosy nor prim
not cousin to the cowslip
nor the extravagant fuchsia-
I doubt anyone has ever
picked one for show,
though the woods must be fringed
with their lemony effusions.

Sun blathers its baronial
endorsement, but they refuse
to join the ranks. Summer
brings them in armfuls,
yet, when the day is large,
you won’t see them fluttering
the length of the road.

They’ll wait until the world’s
tucked in and the sky’s
one ceaseless shimmer-then
lift their saturated eyelids
and blaze, blaze
all night long
for  no one.

 

Excerpted from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

 

Reflecting on the absence of work within the frame of U.S. environmentalism, Richard White explains, “Environmentalists so often seem self-righteous, privileged, and arrogant because they so readily consent to identifying nature with play and making it by definition a place where leisured humans come only to visit and not to work, stay, or live” (173). In White’s view, American environmentalism has been foolishly ignoring work as a useful context for progressive change. Seeing work as something that we stop doing to enjoy the leisurely experience of nature has not been enough to advance environmentalists’ causes; it merely supports the notion that “the original human relation with nature was one of leisure and that the first white men in North America glimpsed and briefly shared that relation” (White 175). In shifting our attention to the ecological frame I set forth in the introduction, I am inspired by White’s assertion that a focus on work can better inform discourse about the natural world.’ One benefit of thinking in this direction may be a clearer appreciation of human beings as part of a larger natural workforce that includes nonhuman nature. In her book The Work of Nature: How the Diversity of Life Sustains Us, Yvonne Baskin points out that “ethical and moral pleas for saving species still predominate” in American environmental efforts and that “human societies have a sad history of setting moral burdens aside while acquiring more comfortable or prosperous lifestyles.” She concludes that “stewardship” and “moral commitment ha[ve] proven a slippery foundation for conservation” (13-14). Baskin suggests that appealing to human interests in self-preservation may encourage greater advocacy for the “life-support services” of nonhuman nature, such as oxygen and food supply. She writes, “Self-preservation is no substitute for ethics, but it’s a strong companion, less easily brushed aside in the hubbub of business as usual” (223). Indeed, identifying ourselves as natural workers can move us toward greater compatibility with the work that nonhuman nature is doing. In other words, seeing ourselves as one type of natural worker may encourage us to better appreciate the ecological consequences of all our actions, whether they are related to our jobs or our recreation.

An ecocritical focus on work also has the benefit of more accurately representing the lives of Americans in the past. This could give us a better sense of the daily lived ecological experiences of African Americans during enslavement and other working Americans. As Al Young writes, “Most Americans [in the nineteenth century] … who knew anything about nature, knew it through work. They hunted and trapped or fished for food; they farmed and preserved” (Deming and Savoy 117). What does it mean when work, rather than leisure, is your central ecological experience? What does it mean when work is compounded by the inconvenient history of enslavement? What happens when work and enslavement influence our discussions about ecology in contemporary America?

 

Kimberly N. Ruffin. Black on Earth: African American Ecoliterary Traditions (pp. 26-28). Kindle Edition.

There was a time in our culture, not long ago, when the essential role of men and women was to nurture and protect each other, to be the caretakers of life and earth. At that time, when the sun sparkled on the sea of our imagination as freshly as it sparkled on the sea herself, we thought of our world and each other in ways which were life-venerating and death-respecting. The porpoise school that weaves its history protectively around its common existence, the whales that tune body and mind in a continuous awareness of life, are not symbols of an alien mythology-they are evocative of what was once the core of human relationships.

Animals were once, for all of us, teachers. They instructed us in ways of being and perceiving that extended our imaginations, that were models for additional possibilities. We watched them make their way through the intricacies of their lives with wonder and with awe. Seeing the wolf pick his delicate way across the snowy forest floor, the eyes of the owl hold the image of the mouse, the dark shape of the whale break the surface of the sea-reminded us of the grand sweep and diversity of life, of its infinite possibilities. The connection of humans with totemic animals was an essential need to ally ourselves with the power and intelligence of hon-human life, to absorb some of the qualities bestowed by the evolutionary process on other creatures.

Whales and dolphins-all Cetaceans-are intensely interesting to us now. They seem to speak for a form of consciousness we are beginning to re-explore in our own inner natures. They help us chart our interior wilderness. We can hear whales singing. If we pay attention and let them live, perhaps we will hear them speak, in their own accents, their own language. It would be an extravagant reward to experience, by empathy, a different band of reality.

We are animals of the land. They are animals of the oceans. We have hands to move and mold the things of the earth. They do not. But with an intelligence imagined as grand as ours – what do they do? What can they do, with mind imprisoned in all that flesh and no fingers for releasing it?

I have stroked, and swum with, and looked at these creatures, and felt their essence rise to meet me like perfume on a spring day. Touched by it, I felt gentler myself, more open to the possibilities that existed around me. There may be only one way to begin to learn from them-and that is to begin. We would not be harmed by returning to the roots which once nourished us, which still, unseen, link together all life that lives, and feels, and things and dies, on this, our common planet.

Excerpted from Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose & Poetry about Nature

Strange but true is the story
of the sea-turtle and the shark-
the instinctive drive of the weak to survive
in the oceanic dark.
Driven,
riven
by hunger
from abyss to shoal,
sometimes the shark swallows
the sea-turtle whole.

The sly reptilian marine
withdraws,
into the shell
of his undersea craft,
his leathery head and the rapacious claws
that can rip
a rhinoceros’ hide
or strip
a crocodile to fare-thee-well;
now,
inside the shark,
the sea-turtle begins the churning seesaws
of his descent into pelagic hell;
then…then,
with ravenous jaws
that can cut sheet steel scrap,
the sea-turtle gnaws
…and gnaws…and gnaws
his way in a way that appalls-
his way to freedom,
beyond the vomiting dark
beyond the stomach walls
of the shark.

 

excerpted from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry