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.

Irma Pineda on Nature and Life

This essay was translated from the Spanish by Sally Keith. Read the Spanish text here,

In my mother-tongue, Didxazá (Zapotec), there are two words for referring to nature. One word is nagá, which makes reference to greenery, that which grows and reproduces, like plants, trees, flowers, maize: because there will be food, there will also be life. The other word, which we use more frequently, is guendanabani, which you translate as the blessing of life and which makes reference as much to the human life as to everything that surrounds us. According to binnizá (Zapotec people) understanding, there is no separation between people and nature: we are one entity.

The idea of person-nature as a whole being is an idea common to many of the Indigenous villages of the world; knowing this, it isn’t difficult to understand that 80% of the biodiversity we conserve in the planet is found precisely in these Indigenous territories, where we care for the entirety of our surroundings. We consider that everything has life and spirit and so our survival depends on conservation.

In the various art forms of Indigenous people, as in literature, we try to specify that nature can’t be separated from the social; that the rituals and spiritual rites are not part of “beliefs and superstitions,” but fundamental to our health, physically and spiritually; that food and energy nourish or damage our health equally; that words and actions heal and condemn; that wisdom we learn from grandmothers and grandfathers is as valid as what we learn from books; that the knowledge we take from reading the sky, from the earth, leaves, birdsong, the movement of air or water is as valid as what we see in a classroom or laboratory.

We consider that creative-artistic activity provides resistance to oppression, because it is from this perspective that we can demonstrate the damage caused to nature, the violence done to the defenders of the environment. Through art we gain knowledge of different cultures, understand the diversity of world views, look directly at others and let them also see us. We learn in connection with nature, with spirituality, as a fountain of riches, of knowledge, of social and economic exchange. All this is with respect to our surroundings, for they are what symbolize life itself. 


Sally Keith is an Editorial Co-Director of Poetry Daily.

Writing Prompt

Pineda distinguishes between two words for “nature” in Zapotec: nagá and guendanabani. Write a poem that describes a natural scene, making use of this distinction.

Poetry Daily

Share This Post

Print This Post

Irma Pineda
Wendy Call

Irma Pineda

Irma Pineda is an Isthmus Zapotec poet and writer. She works as a professor at Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, is a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and writes a column, “The Flower of the Word,” for La Jornada Semanal. She has written various essays about indigenous languages, literature, and education. Pineda’s most recent collections of poetry are Naxiña’ Rului’ladxe’-Rojo Deseo (Pluralia, 2018 y 2021), Chupa Ladxidua’- Dos es mi Corazón (Secretaría de Cultura, 2018) and Nasiá Racaladxe’- Azul Anhelo (UDLAP, 2020). Pineda’s poetry has been translated to English, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, German, and other languages, and appears in a diversity of magazines and anthologies in American and Europe. In February 2022, a group of poems from didazá (translated to English by Wendy Call) were published in Poetry Magazine. She has served as the President of Writer in Indigenous Languages and has received grants from FONCA and Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte de México.