April is National Poetry Month, and April 22 is Earth Day. As I see it, these two celebrations not only overlap in terms of time, but they also speak to each other in meaningful ways. Since ancient times poets have been inspired by the natural world. Many of today’s poets also write about nature and the relationship between humans and the natural world. Three such poets are Christopher Davis, Allison Hutchcraft, and Grace Ocasio, all of whom teach poetry in our creative writing program. I contacted Chris, Allison and Grace and asked them to share one of their poems that relates to Earth Day. Here are the poems that they sent to me:
Excerpt from “Shell Island” by Christopher Davis
It’s weathered subject matter, this boutique hotel,
a revamped Holiday Inn at the end of a sand bar
pulled this way and that, eroded by wind, rain,
currents, tides flooding the inland waterway.
To restore expensive real estate, bulldozers
added three thousand more feet of beach
a little to the north, destroying habitats
for plovers, black flyers, sanderlings.
White water fowl wings
skim breaking waves.
“Shell Island” originally appeared in December in 2016.
Two excerpts from “Out the Birds, Out” by Allison Hutchcraft. This poem looks to the ways in which invasive species brought by humans irrevocably changed the ecosystems of the dodo’s home, what is now the country of Mauritius, contributing to the bird’s quick extinction:
Now the hogs keep hogging
all the fruit.
The rats swing
like bats from the trees,
eating everything green.
The poem also addresses the transition between the original environmental conditions before colonialists landed on the island and after:
For years: a coco-tree,
a rotted branch,
a lyre of weeds.
Then those pigs—
flattening the grass,
sending their snouts
your home, uncovered,
“Out the Birds, Out” originally appeared in the Kenyon Review in 2015.
“Great-Aunt Ruby” by Grace Ocasio
Could it be your rant was not meant for me but for shadows tugging at your sleeves?
Paddy rollers you might have dreamed––your mind consumed by the vision of you
as Negress––petticoated, shifted, and jacketed during slavery?
I always believed your words could overturn injustice like a mother
right siding an upside-down child.
The smile you wore most days was crooked as a broken hook-and-eye door latch,
but I sought you out anyway, implored your hands to tell secrets of your girlhood
in South Carolina.
Did you seek shelter in brooks near your childhood home?
Could brooks offset flickers of white hands dismissing you
when you entered five-and-dimes?
After you departed my home, I kept your wash basin, perhaps to begin an ablution
of our past, a way to untap our trickly connection
until it teemed, fertile as a rain forest.
I wanted to consult you like an older sister, wrap my arms around you,
as though you were a live oak, infuse your sap into my veins.
At times, your glare uprooted my heart, turned its soil to soot.
But then, I discovered your artful tongue’s stories of how you apprenticed
under Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, groomed students to hammer tent poles
in front of courthouses, mechanics’ shops, ice cream parlors.
The day you left my home for the hospital I found the pixie-girl photo of you.
The pixels of your eyes shined tawny-olive as a wood thrush.
Those days you lived with me, I sunk your red clay deep into my nails,
inhaled, never exhaled it, spread your loam all over my skin
like a lotion that never expires.
“Great-Aunt Rudy” originally appeared in Poetry South in 2016.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Nadia Clifton, an M.A. candidate with a concentration in literature, has accepted the offer of admission from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science. In August, she will begin an M.S. in Library Science, specializing in Archives and Records Management.
Katie Hogan delivered an invited talk at the annual colloquium for the Cultural Studies Ph.D. Program at George Mason University on April 13, 2017. Katie’s talk, “Complicit: On Being a WGSS Director in the Neoliberal University,” resonates with the colloquium’s 2016-17 theme, “State of the University.” A GMU doctoral student conducted an interview with Katie. Also, Katie has just received a courtesy appointment to the graduate faculty at Oregon State University so that she can work with a Ph.D. student at OSU.
Upcoming Events and Deadlines— Here is information about upcoming events.
Feb. 21 — The English Department meeting will take place on April 21 from 11:00 to 12:30 in Atkins 125.
Feb. 21 — The English Department’s Student Award Ceremony will take place on April 21 from 12:30 to 2:00 in the Dale Halton Reading Room in the Atkins Library.
Quirky Quiz Question — Chris Davis’s poem “Shell Island” relates to a beach just east of Wilmington, NC. Some people think it is named after Orville and Wilbur Wright, but it is not. What is the name of this beach?
Last week’s answer: Shakespeare
John McNair was one of the first professors in the English Department to deal with science in his teaching and scholarship. However, his academic specialty was in a completely different area. Does anybody remember John McNair’s academic specialty?