When I initially planned my spring quarter Embodied Ecopoetics workshop, the world was a different place.
I offered my first installment of this workshop at Hugo House in the fall and was excited about the opportunity to offer it again this April. Now, despite the stress and fear surrounding the current global pandemic, I can’t think of a better time to explore this vital topic.
In Washington, we are all staying at home and adjusting to new routines, many of which are online. Maybe being at home has allowed for more reflection time? Perhaps the natural world has offered some solace in these uncertain times, whether it be a reinvigorating walk in the woods or a brave weed emerging from a concrete crack. Spring is arriving in full force across the Northwest and with it comes sunnier days, bursting blooms, and an opportunity to notice.
I am reminded of Ross Gay’s poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.” In the fourth stanza he writes:
and thank you, friends, when last spring
the hyacinth bells rang
and the crocuses flaunted
their upturned skirts, and a quiet roved
the beehive which when I entered
were snugged two or three dead
fist-sized clutches of bees between the frames,
almost clinging to one another,
this one’s tiny head pushed
into another’s tiny wing,
one’s forelegs resting on another’s face,
the translucent paper of their wings fluttering
beneath my breath and when
a few dropped to the frames beneath:
honey; and after falling down to cry,
everything’s glacial shine.
What is going on outside in a forest or a park or a garden? What can you learn from what is actually happening now? Laura-Gray Street writes, “Ecopoetry isn’t just any poetry garnished with birds or trees; it is a kind of paradigm shift. It is the apprehension of our real biological selves.” There is opportunity in staying home, in slowing down, in making seemingly simple observations. While our minds might be caught up in a lot of news and information-sharing right now, our bodies know that nature forges on.
The poet Mary Rose O’Reilly writes, “All contemplative acts, silences, poems, honor the world this way. Brought together by the eye of love, a milkweed pod, a twig, allow us to see how things have been all along. A feast of being.”
Here are six steps to start seeing outside of ourselves:
1. Step outside. Is it warm or cold? Sunny or drizzling
2. Take a deep breath. What do you smell?
3. Listen to the quiet. What sounds do you hear and feel? Ecopoetry is as much about whole body listening as it is about writing.
4. Look up, look down, look left, look right. What catches your eye? Is it a shape or a color?
5. Spend as much time outside as you need to. Move around. Take all this information and write it down. What did you encounter? What did you discover?
6. Repeat daily.
In the back of our farm I have been observing two eagles, a mating pair. I have been watching them stay home in the nest they built last summer. Each day I gather something new, like a call or a movement. I watch them from different spots. On the one hand, yes, I am looking at birds in a tree. But what else? What else can I learn if I make space to see?
Want to learn more? Join Jessica for Embodied Ecopoetics on Saturday, April 18.
Jessica Gigot is a poet, farmer, teacher and musician. She has a small farm in Bow, WA called Harmony Fields that makes artisan sheep cheese and grows organic herbs. Jessica has lived in the Skagit Valley for over fifteen years and is deeply connected to the artistic and agricultural communities that coexist in this region. Her first book of poems, Flood Patterns, was published by Antrim House Books in 2015 and her writing appears in several publications, including Orion, Taproot, Gastronomica, The Hopper, Pilgrimage, About Place Journal, and Poetry Northwest.