What Sparks Poetry

Ecopoetry Now

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature that explores experiences and ideas that spark the writing of new poems.

In Ecopoetry Now, invited poets engage in an ecopoetic conversation across borders. In poems and poetics statements, their work describes important local differences, including bioregion and language, as well as a shared concern for the Earth. We hope to highlight poetry’s integral role in creating and sustaining a broadly ecological imagination that is most alive when biologically, culturally, and linguistically diverse.

Daniela Naomi Molnar on “chorus 27 / Ojito Canyon / what consoles does wondering console”

Poetry is ligamentary, a rhizomatic mesh of roots that feeds on eternal forces to form new connections. Poetry is a way to be not-alone, to be part of an ancient interdependent system, a body: impure, precise, sensitive, miraculous, quotidian. A poem is an organism keeping life on.

A poem’s vital organs—metaphor, lineation, patterned sound—are organs of connection. Each, in its way, links seemingly disparate entities, creating vital new symbioses. This is how a poem undermines our ossified and overgrown illusion of separateness, that particularly noxious lie.

A poem enacts this refusal. It doesn’t say no, it is no. A poem refuses not through rhetoric or narrative but through its very body. No to fundamentalist versions of independence, that toxic idea so essential to the functioning of the late capitalist murder machine. No, you and I and all of this are one. We all need each other in order to live. Everything and everyone in every environment is essential.

Poetry is borne of an elemental urge to connect with the deep time wildness of language. Like a poem, language is an ecosystem, made of the same stuff we’re made of, which is the same stuff the planet is made of. To speak a word, we move air through the fiery earth of our body, from the wet inside skin of lungs out through the watery trachea by the muscled earthwater of the tongue.

Poetry is a way to wander through the rules of language the way one can wander through a wild place, following flows and fissures and curiosities rather than roads. In this way, apparently unlike things are connected by the wanderer. Wandering across a meadow, my body and consciousness, which in that moment are one, might connect the deep blue of a lupine with the searing chartreuse of a lichen, two organisms that perhaps have no direct ecological relationship, whose physical bodies might never touch, become connected in the poem of my consciousness. This connection can be preserved in a poem on a page and the connection is reanimated whenever the words are read or sung.

Like any good wander, a poem can start anywhere and go anywhere. In the vast/tiny place of a poem, any two or two billion entities can be linked. One conception of god in Judaism is Ha’Makom, The Place, a place that is made of mostly space. In life, in Ha’makom, nothing is separate, the poem says. Everything lives together in the place of space.

A poem is our larger mind, our ecological consciousness, made entirely of verbs. Look closely enough and all nouns are verbs: matter is mostly space, seldom interrupted by spinning, swirling molecules—all is process, not thing. A noun is a verb in the place of space. A poem holds this spacious kinetic restlessness and does not try to slow it.

An obsession with silence and space, generative rupture, “lavish absence”—this is one of the ways inherited trauma has shaped my life in ways beyond my control. But these silences and gaps are also essential elements of the creative process. I see these forceful voids as doubled zeros. I see them facing each other like eyes.

Writing Prompt

Poem biome

A poem is a biome, an ecosystem of forces in dynamic flux: motley, imbricate, vital, unstill. Each of my poems relies on place as a primary medium. My invitation to language in a poem is not just to evoke a place but to BE a place.

CHORUS was written in collaboration with a remote canyon in New Mexico, the Pacific Northwest coast, and Portland, Oregon. The book was also written in collaboration with a plenitude of voices: other writers, poets, artists, scientists, journalists, and philosophers. In these ways, the speaker of the book is not a singular “I” in a traditional lyric sense. Rather, she is an ecology, a set of forces and voices.

Write a poem in collaboration with a place you love and writers you admire.

Put a few books that you love near where you are writing. Open a book to a random page and choose a random phrase that you love. Write this phrase down, then repeat the process with a few more books until you have a few phrases to work with (be sure to keep track of whose words you’re foraging).

Now think about a place that you love. If possible, go to the place to write, or simply close your eyes and imagine the place. Move around. What do you see? What do you hear? What touches your skin? What scents the air? Who lives there? What does the air taste like, feel like? Free write for 7 minutes, trying to communicate your sensory experience of the place. Focus more on sensory information than on explaining what the place “means” to you. Consider Luis Alberto Urrea’s assertion that “Place isn’t a setting. Place is an elder in the family. We are not describing landscapes: we are writing biographies.”

Read over what you wrote, underlining phrases that stand out to you. You don’t need to know why these bits appeal to you — you don’t even need to “like” the words you underline. Simply pay attention to what intuitively interests you and make note of these words.

Write a poem using the seeds you’ve gathered: the underlined words from your writing and the other writers’ words. Create a poem biome: a diverse, elemental, interdependent system.

Daniela Naomi Molnar

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Daniela Naomi Molnar

Daniela Naomi Molnar is an artist, poet, and writer working with the mediums of language, image, paint, pigment, and place. She is also a wilderness guide, educator, and eternal student. Her book CHORUS was selected by Kazim Ali as the winner of Omnidawn’s 2022 1st/2nd Book Prize. Her work was the subject of a recent Oregon Art Beat profile and a front-page feature in the Los Angeles Times. This entry about her work in the Oregon Encyclopedia pushes all her nerd buttons at once. Her visual work has been shown nationally, is in public and private collections internationally, and has been recognized by numerous grants, fellowships, and residencies. She teaches about poetry and the poetics of pigment-making. In 2016, she founded the Art + Ecology program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and is a founding Board member of the artist residency Signal Fire. A cornerstone of her practice is to be resolutely non-competitive, non-expert, and committed to always changing. She can be found in Portland, Oregon, exploring public wildlands, or at www.danielamolnar.com / Instagram: @daniela_naomi_molnar