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.

Melissa Kwasny on “Sleeping with the Cedars”

“There is the art of diagnosis,” Ezra Pound wrote, “and the art of cure.” Both, of course, are necessary. There is political activism, and there is also spiritual or imaginative activism.

Most of us are frightened of the future and grief stricken at what humans have done to the earth. As I see it, one of the unique tasks of poets, especially at this time, is to be in imaginative relation with the Earth. And to use language as a tool toward that effort.

To have an imaginative—as opposed to an abstract or intellectual—relationship with the earth is to be in attendance to what Denise Levertov called “other forms of life that want to live.”

Levertov: “The progression seems clear to me: from Reverence for Life to Attention to Life, from Attention to Life to a highly developed Seeing and Hearing, from Seeing and Hearing (faculties almost indistinguishable for the poet).”

To be in relationship is to continually be developing a relationship. To listen. To observe. To spend time together. To be in profound attendance.

We are, comparatively, a loud species. Bee-loud, as in constant, but with more volume. We don’t share the same language with other forms of nonhuman life, though we share many of the same senses, albeit with differing levels of adeptness.

We share, however, the same Imaginal Presence, or life force, or soul, which enables us to communicate with each other.

Therefore, the question, as the philosopher Henry Corbin articulates in his book Spiritual Body , Celestial Earth, “is much less a matter of answering questions concerning essences (“what is it?”) than questions concerning persons (“who is it?” or “to whom does it correspond/”) for example, who is the earth? who are the waters, the plants, the mountains?”

Many indigenous cultures have centered their cultures around this knowledge. Here in Montana, I hear stories about the deer people, coyote people, and chickadee people. “The first treaty was with the buffalo,” I recently heard Lailani Uphama, a Blackfeet educator and journalist, say. “Many arrangements and treaties were made with other beings.”

To have a sense of reciprocity or treaty—a healthy ecology—means believing in the Personhood of those who share the earth with us.

By imaginative or creative practice, I mean this kind of work. I mean a communication that begins outside us, with our senses, and continues in acts of interiority that, paradoxically, connect us with others and might begin to heal the rift between us.

Writing Prompt

Go outside. Without your phone. No matter where you live, there are other forms of nonhuman life in your vicinity: insects, trees, grass, birds. Notice what is calling to you. Pause there. On this, your first meeting, introduce yourself and, silly as it may seem, ask if they will speak with you. This is an open-ended request, one that may be answered in the moment and in the future in a variety of ways. Believe you can do this. You can ask more complex questions later, or none at all. Try to attend to them with all of your five senses.

When you go inside, write what you remember from your sensory impressions. Include any extraneous thoughts that come between. A written language has trapdoors to fall through. This is evidence of the imaginal powers working. Close the page.

On the second day, visit the place again. See what else reveals itself to you, even if the bird or butterfly has fled. Ask them if they will visit you in your dreams. Again, write when you re-enter your rooms. Close the page.

After the third visit, put yourself to sleep by imagining them tucked in next to you. In the morning, record what happened. Who came and what did you hear? Did they put you to sleep or keep you awake? Did they follow you into your dreams?

Later, open your notebook and read what you’ve written over the past three days. Underline what matters. I hope you are surprised by what you learn.

Melissa Kwasny

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Melissa Kwasny

Melissa Kwasny is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Where Outside the Body is the Soul Today (Pacific Northwest Poetry Series, University of Washington Press) and the forthcoming The Cloud Path (Milkweed Editions 2024), as well as a collection of essays Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision. Her first full length nonfiction book, Putting on the Dog: The Animal Origins of What We Wear, explores the cultural, labor, and environmental histories of clothing materials provided by animals. She is also the editor of two anthologies: I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poets in Defense of Global Human Rights and Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800-1950. She was Montana Poet Laureate from 2019-2021, a position she shared with M.L. Smoker.