Connect to the natural world through poetry.
For centuries, poets worldwide have written about the natural world’s wonders. Thich Nhat Hanh celebrated how “water flows from high in the mountains.” Gary Snyder exulted being alive “on a mid-September morn/fording a stream/barefoot.” The Eskimos reveled in “the arch of sky and mightiness of storms.”
And what about you? Don’t you know what it’s like to stand beneath a night sky breathing in the scents of life? Don’t you recall that day in the garden when you saw that first butterfly flitting around your favorite blooms?
Why not write about it? When we enter the natural world with a pen in our hand, we automatically heighten our senses. Instead of passing by the wild rose bush growing abruptly out of a rock, note it. Instead of merely observing the landscape, interact with it and find meaning in it.
Oh, but you’re not a poet? No excuse. As New Mexico poet Renée Gregorio says, “Anyone can write. Poets are the people who actually do write. . . who take the time to engage with the world, be alive to the moment, gather images, and then find out what the images are all about.’’
Basically, poetry is a chance to marry who you are with what you see. There, in ink, you can connect with all that surrounds you. And the good news is, you can’t do it wrong.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
• Start small. Instead of writing about spring in general, try writing about a tulip or a melting snowman. Instead of simply noting a difficult garden plant as unruly in your garden journal, describe its character as if it were human—a neighbor to be reckoned with.
• Use concrete images. Avoid abstract words such as “beauty” and “hope.” Focus on details, and use color wherever you can.
• Pay attention to the sounds of words. A sound is the most basic unit of the poem, even more important sometimes than meaning. Compare the rich resonance of May Swenson’s phrase, “your pronged gaze makes my eyes gauze” to the stilted sound of “your intent look makes me starry-eyed.’’
• Read poems. If you like them, think about why. What words appealed to you? Was there a form? Did the poet use repetition? If you didn’t like the poem, why not?
• Copy your favorite writer. I don’t mean plagiarize, I mean imitate. If you like The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost, try to emulate it.
• Try not to edit as you go. Just get everything down. Read it out loud. Later, go back and determine what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you’re sure you’re finished, delete twenty-five percent of your words.
With these things in mind, here are two exercises for writing nature poems. Feel free to break the rules—that’s what poetry is about.
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer is a freelance writer residing in Telluride, Colorado. She is the author of two books of poetry: Lunaria (Western Reflections, 1999) and If You Listen: Poems and Photographs of the San Juan Mountains (Western Reflections, 2000).