A recurring motif in much of my poetry over the years has been some aspect of the natural world, involving certain species of animal and plant wildlife, wild scenes, and biological elements. My first poems focused on the usual suspects, those parts of nature nearest at hand–backyard birds, trees and grass and bodies of water, the change of seasons.
Sometimes I use this motif as a means of exploring a human principle or truth. Sometimes the gaze is more direct upon the subject, for its own sake. However the theme emerges, it always seems to find its way into my considerations (if only for a second) going into a poem, if not into the text of the poem itself.
My love of nature extends to neither dramatic extreme of tree hugging nor primal hunting. I’m not a vegetarian. I like to think I take a reasonable, balanced view of the relationship between animals–human and non-human–and between people and ecosystems. I do not seek to vilify those who mine natural resources as they have done for hundreds of years in this country, simply for doing so. I’m not much of a backpacker or camper. I tend to prefer the leisurely nature walk at the local park to other more rigorous or back-country pursuits of nature.
Lately, for various reasons, I seem to have retreated even farther inward, taking the position American poet Billy Collins shares in one of his poems, the idea of being an armchair nature lover who sometimes makes it to the window but not quite to the door. (Sadly, I couldn’t find the poem in my copies of his books. My apologies for that. Collins’ place on my recommended poets list is long held and permanent.)
The strings of my heart do tense at the pull of calls to save threatened and endangered wild animal species. I empathize with creatures in distress, and when one comes my way, putting me in a position to be the one to help, I do the best I can with the role, but I weigh it pragmatically against my other duties and the protection of my own family, especially my special-needs dog.
I acknowledge the risks that larger scale human activity often poses to living things and their ecosystems. I understand the serious need to prevent forest fires, but I also understand the need to conduct controlled burns and the fact that some tree species do not propagate without the intense heat of fire to release their seeds. I’m for sustainability, but I’m also a skeptic. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know everything about my subjects of interest. And neither do you.
But I look at the risks as more than a one-sided proposition. There are risks in everything, in every aspect of life, whether human, animal, or vegetable. Some risks can be managed. Some are out of our control. All must be endured to be survived.
I also consider the grander scheme of nature’s own indifference to the beings in its midst. Death is a normal part of life, even painful death, and certainly predatory death. In my view, neither humans nor animals nor the environment should always come first. It’s a balancing act, to be undertaken in the existing context of our lives and the demands of undeniable society.
As for poetry, there always seems to be something I want to get to the bottom of in the wilderness, its mysteries and wonders. At times, it seems like I’m attacking the same idea over and over without reaching the sought-after insight. In other moments, I’m happy to dwell in the middle of it and let be what will. Perhaps I just can’t get enough of focusing on its fascinations, whatever should result. Exulting in these delights fills many pages of my verse.
Nature poetry is hardly a novel type, which makes it that much more difficult to make fresh than some others. I suppose it’s the challenge of this that has as much to do with my preoccupation as the subject itself does: to approach something familiar and see it again for the first time, then to extract and present the new facets for others to enjoy.
I come to it openly, trying not to force the issue. I let the motif be my guide for initial inspiration, and inhale. Then, I work to make interesting shapes from the matter. It calls, and I respond. Creation is always a partnership if not a village concern.