In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial, the Academy of American Poets has commissioned fifty poets to write poems about a park in each of the fifty states. This project is part of Imagine Your Parks, a grant initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts created in partnership with the National Park Service to support projects that use the arts to engage people with the memorable places and landscapes of the National Park System.
“My father took me to Little River Canyon in northeastern Alabama one summer when I was in high school, after I’d begged him to take me to see a real, wild river because I was sick of lakes, dammed rivers, and domesticated bodies of water. This summer, I returned with my husband to the Little River, and I saw so many different people of different ethnicities swimming in the river together. While in the river, I thought of the thousands of Cherokee who’d lived here for generations before, who were killed and brutally uprooted by Anglo Americans in what became known as the Trail of Tears.”
“Indigenous people continue to be dispossessed of our homelands through various policies (relocation, conservation, economic development and countless other paternalisms). As an Inupiaq woman, it can be a challenge to celebrate aspects of the problematic history of this country, especially ones that are so closely yoked to my identity: land and place. I wrote this poem to honor sites in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve whose importance is impressed upon me by relatives and community members, though I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to spend time in all of these places. This poem also allowed me to draw upon the beautiful intricacies of rhetoric, observation, and sensibility embodied in the life work of Herbert Anungazuk (NPS Native Liasion) and contrast those with those of John Muir.”
—Joan Naviyuk Kane
"I remember first coming to the Petrified Forest as a very young man and wondering what all the fuss was about. There didn’t seem to be much there. Petrified wood lay everywhere, in greater and lesser amounts, but it just seemed like curious rock. In driving through the area, which is large, however, the more the place began to change before me. It was a drive through time. The great expanses of northern Arizona are geologic in their scope—human measures are not adequate to understanding them. The Grand Canyon we can “see”—but to see the Petrified Forest, you must use a different set of eyes. Arizona is a place in which the human imagination is called upon to be complicit in understanding that this desert once was—so magically in this arid place, this very specific place—a forest. The openness of this region lends itself to myth, to big story, to the engaged imagination hard at work for centuries in the act of understanding and in trying to see what is profoundly in front of us. In this effort, the desert is full of mirages, which may not be mirages at all but living acts of memory held in common with the earth."
“The form of ‘Hot Springs’ was inspired by Robert Francis’s wonderful ‘Silent Poem,’ a poem I’ve loved and taught for years. When I sat down to write about Hot Springs National Park, I kept thinking about the two stressed syllables of the name ‘Hot Springs’ and it eventually led me to wonder if I could write a poem composed entirely of spondees and still manage to convey a sense, albeit fractured, of one of my favorite places in Arkansas.”
"This piece, written at the request of the Academy of American Poets, celebrates not only the centennial of the National Park Service, but also the existence of Point Reyes National Seashore, an unusual National Park, at the edge of the continent. Hundreds of thousands have enjoyed the National Seashore, which accommodates family farms, many styles of wilderness, and countless non-human species. On any given day, it is possible to be on the trails and to be entirely solitary, or to go in company of loved ones and guests. Our family has enjoyed the area for over three decades. It is a huge treasure and let's hope it exists forever."
"This poem is set like a spine within the glorious Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and specifically on its fragile tundra. Tundra is known for its excessively low temperature and endangered eco-system (due to global warming) and derives from the Kildin Sami (formerly Lappish) word 'treeless mountain tract.' Wanting to genuflect or bow, one is awed by the spiritual power of tundra, of mountains, lichen, magnificent moose, and elk in this majestic environment. And one gets a sense, also, of Nature’s phenomenal shifts and dynamics and magic (which resonate through time), considering this was all once ocean. I am deeply grateful to the will to keep this place safe and sound for generations to come. May it continue to thrive whatever the follies of mankind."
“Weir Farm National Historic Site is the legacy of American Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir and his family and circle. Designed and preserved by artists, Weir Farm is the only national park dedicated to American painting and to the rediscovery of the beauty of light and color in everyday life.”
"The Brandywine Creek enters Delaware about five miles north of Wilmington. The day I visited, kayakers, canoeists, and tubers floated under a cool green canopy. At one bend of the creek a woman waded knee-deep, coaxing her horse to follow. While we think of our parks as places that Americans have saved—and I am grateful William Bancroft had the power and vision to preserve Beaver Valley—our beloved creek reminds me that the Lenape (or Delaware) Nation lived on its banks before European immigrants arrived, and that the woods I walk have recovered from being cleared. The Brandywine Creek powered flour mills, cotton mills, and paper mills that supplied Ben Franklin’s print shop and the paper to print the Declaration of Independence. It also ran DuPont’s gunpowder mills. Jorie Graham asks, 'is it more eco-poetic to write about the bird or to write about the bulldozer about to destroy the bird’s habitat?' Though they continued to protest the mill dams, which destroyed their shad fisheries, the Lenape were already ninety percent decimated by 1682. I wrote this poem in the voice of the creek to meditate on its present and ancient passages through lives and deaths, and our future."
"The Everglades lacks the obvious drama of some of our most famous natural treasures, such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite. It is a more meditative space, a place to lose oneself amid clouds and sawgrass, rather than find oneself dazzled and amazed at earth’s grandeur. It is also, unlike those luckier parks, located in the backyard of a major American city, subject to the relentless pressure of real estate development that fuels Florida’s economy. What does the future hold for the Everglades, how will the future judge our stewardship of its serene beauty?"
“As part of ceremonies commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Andersonville National Historic Site held a funeral for the 13,000 who died in Andersonville Prison. I was asked, as poet laureate of Georgia, to read a poem at the ceremony, and ‘Prayer’ is the poem I wrote for the occasion.”
"In 2013, I taught a Pacific Poetry graduate course at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa. One of the major themes of Pacific Poetry is militarization and its impacts on native islanders and the environment. My class was able to attend a 'detour' of military sites on 'Oahu, which included Pearl Harbor. The 'detour' is an educational tour led by two demilitarization activists and scholars, Terri Kekoʻolani and Kyle Kajihiro. Walking through Pearl Harbor with them, we learned the deeper histories and politics of Pearl Harbor, as well as its Hawaiian name: 'Ke Awalau o Puʻuloa.' My poem is a textual detour that reveals hidden layers buried beneath the colonial narrative of America's national parks and monuments."
—Craig Santos Perez
"Once I visited and began reading about the Hagerman Fossil Beds, a national monument for which 4,394 acres have been set aside, I realized I would need to approach the place with eyes willing to see what was both visible and not, as the sediments at Hagerman preserve an abundance of fauna from the late Pliocene era. Unlike the sagebrush environment we see today, the site was African savanna-like roughly 3.5 million years ago. In fact, the Hagerman horse (Idaho's state fossil) was found to resemble Africa's native Grévy's zebra more than any North American horse. In short, I wanted—in an era characterized by fractiousness and disconnection—to reveal what seems to be the easeful simultaneity of all time zones, as well as the oneness and interdependence of all creatures: the conditions for which this site serves as revered symbol."
"Utopias don’t last long if they last at all. The poem begins with a building that can do nothing but burn throughout the twentieth century in a utopic community built by the railroad magnate, George Pullman, for his workers, a community that very few people of color lived in until recently. While visiting the National Park of Pullman, my ear was pulled toward the boys playing tag, weaving in and out of yards and parked cars, yelling ‘run, nigga.’ The boys yelling ‘run, nigga’ seemed like both a warning and celebration, particularly in a city like Chicago where this type of entreaty could be both threat and jubilee. Though the boys were playing in the alleyways and streets, shouting back and forth to each other, because of the sirens nearby, their play was always circumscribed or, at the very least, in conversation with the violence that consumes the national news and the reigning narrative about Chicago. I couldn’t help but write into and about these juxtapositions and contradictions."
"Carl Sandburg said the Indiana dunes 'constitute a signature of time and eternity' and that seemed to be the right place to start a poem about Indiana’s only nature-focused national park. Especially since the park itself serves as a time signature with several terrains and mature ecosystems in a relatively small space. The park’s location is also prime real estate for industry—at the end of Lake Michigan, between Chicago and several centers of manufacturing in Northern Indiana. When the developers were stopped from building over the dunes, they built at the Eastern and Western ends of the park, bracketing it with smoke stacks and steel works. In the poem, I tried to balance the ecological vibrancy of this remarkable park with the boot prints of industry that surround it."
"I've never been to the Effigy Mounds National Monument; I've only seen aerial photographs. A friend who has visited several times told me that, because you look at the mounds from the ground, you can't see the animal shapes—it just looks like little hills. When she told me this, I thought: it would be impossible to create all those shapes (they go on for hundreds of miles) unless you could see the construction from above. Then I thought, maybe something was directing it, and the people were seeing through its eyes. Then I imagined the animals lying down and willing themselves to grow gigantic, like a queen bee does, and show off their shapes to this thing in the sky and become one with it. Then I thought, Whoa!"
—Jennifer L. Knox
"I was once a little girl in Kansas, and my mother pointed me toward every bison wallow she saw. Wallows are dents written in the fields by the bison’s bodies, and in that now bisonless land, a wallow was a language made of two words: 'We were.' Any thought of the prairie’s former vastness has always met in me a feeling of a proportionately vast grief. No matter how much my being from the prairie is a result of the same particular history, the tall grass prairie and its native peoples’ near total evisceration under settler colonialism and extractivist capitalism still breaks my heart. But I could mourn, or I could imagine, so I erred toward possibility, wrote a poem as a dream of the biome’s revenge. The tall grass prairie was once itself for its magnitude, just how any other ocean is oceanic for its disorienting size. Now reduced to specimen, what’s left is mostly memorial, but like any other biome the prairie is in no way inert. Why should we mistake it for defeated? Why shouldn’t it rise again? One time when I was at a rodeo, the announcer asked, 'Who here is cheering for the bulls?' Half the crowd roared. I am probably always in the-cheering-for-the-animal half of our species, so I went with it. It is easy to mistake a wallow for a tombstone, but on the day I wrote this poem, I decided to invite, instead, the optic of exquisite threat."
“This poem came out of a recent, almost urgent, need to point back to the earth. We have done so much harm in this life—to one another, to the ground we think we own—and I wanted the chance to speak directly to a sacred place and look for answers, or to simply lay my buzzing mind down at the mercy of the earth’s core.”
"Some places, some literal locations, remind us that we are alive and that we live because someone else was willing to make the art that sustains us, music and poetry that give us something to look forward to, to dance to in a world that would have us dead or imprisoned. I am most amazed at my capacity to feel joy...and I understand that joy as an inheritance passed down to me by people who don't mind having a good time in a dangerous and forgetful country."
“Yeats asked ‘did she put on his knowledge with his power?' Which I’ve always thought is one of the great questions in poetry; in fact I had that question in the first draft, though it was too much of course. But I was thinking about primary experience—essential experience—and trying to find some way to talk about that, or at least sit with it awhile. What does it mean to see a place for the first time—which can be, of course, any time, and where do we go from there, which is to say, where do we go from beauty? As someone who lives next to Acadia, and works in the park every day, I think about these questions a lot—how to get back to the real thing, and keep getting back there.”
"In writing about Catoctin Mountain Park, I found myself wanting to capture the spatial experience of the park, which enables different modes of attention—both the broad and reflective attention warranted by overlooks and 'wide shots,' and the 'close shots' as one notices wildlife and natural details underfoot and alongside. A third kind of attention I wanted to engage was that of the creative mind loosed in a body in motion through a natural landscape. The mind responds to the natural stimuli associatively—in my case, through personification, etymological associations and word play, and literary connections (the 'whose woods' of Frost and the 'democratic vistas' of Whitman). I hoped that readers aware of Camp David’s close proximity to the park would let that presence complicate and contextualize the poem from its epigraph to its final stanza. Aristotle’s thoughts on man as the 'political animal' enabled me to sustain this connection."
"I wanted to write a poem for Boston’s Old South Meeting House, one of the oldest churches in North America and one of the many sites in Boston National Historical Park. In revolutionary times, this was the place to discuss the issues of the day. Boston Tea Party meetings were held here. Phyllis Wheatley worshipped here. Abolitionists, writers, and thought leaders worked together to save it from the wrecking ball. It is iconic and emblematic of the city’s complicated history. Today, this space inspires a new generation as a museum, and as space for a variety of events, including poetry. And in this time of political divides, I wanted to end on a note of hope."
—January Gill O'Neil
"German, Irish, Scandinavian: in 1860, eighty percent of the seamen who earned their living on the Great Lakes were recent immigrants. Manitou Straits: on the lake bed between the Manitou Islands and Sleeping Bear Dunes lie the carcasses of more than fifty ships. When my great grandfather sold his cargo schooner in 1866, he made his way from Milwaukee to Newport, Wisconsin, and used the proceeds to buy the farm that is still our family farm."
"I was born in Shanghai, the end of the Yangtze. Now I live at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, a confluence of time and space layered with histories of geology, geography, and cultures. The Twin Cities sit on both sides of the magnificent sandstone bluffs. If you pick up a sandstone on the beach, you can crush it with your fingers, and you get a handful of sand. Each grain tells a story of the land, river, and people. Each drop of water contains a paradise. I want to sing this paradise in Ghazal, a tradition from the mystical poet Rumi."
"I am originally from northern California but I've lived in Mississippi for more than twenty-eight years. Twice, I've visited the Vicksburg National Military Park, and each time I have wished I could walk—and thereby honor—every inch of the nearly three miles squared where 17,000 Union dead are buried, with around 5000 Confederate soldiers buried in the nearly Vicksburg City Cemetery. Most of the graves on both sides are anonymous. Wondering how to write about such a vast place, such a ponderous subject, I happened upon the beautiful photograph of gingko leaves scattered among the graves. And I thought of the sons—all the sons—who are buried there."
"I have to admit I picked a difficult location for myself, but ultimately maybe the best for how I think. After many drafts, the entry point for this poem was the afternoon the line 'O trail up outta here' came to me. It was the first moment any of the drafting resulted in something that felt like my voice. My voice—one of contentious wrestling with history and notions of hope, and in recent days of final revision, one coinciding with the election—is here trying to reconcile a history of colonialism and white supremacy in a poem meant to celebrate our parks. Under the administration Missouri has voted to put in office in January, our parks are part of an even more-threatened ecosystem, and so imagining possibility for them feels pretty critical these days, as critical as remembering our history with one another and imagining a way forward."
—francine j. harris
“In this poem I was grieving still (I don’t know if one stops, but raw grieving gives over to a different sort) and also falling in love with a widower who had helped me through it. I was also starting to teach again, which was hard because I had lost some of the meaning of why I wrote poetry and what it meant to capture its form or formlessness. I was grateful to take on the assignment of writing a poem and figuring out what it could hold. I was also humbled by the beauty and stillness of the park. During my drive and walk through it, although I am terrified of heights, it comforted me with its stillness, which was a mysterious and new feeling.”
"Nebraska is located on the Great Plains, once a deep-rooted prairie ecosystem that sustained abundant large mammals— bison, elk, deer, mountain lions, wolves— and nomadic/ semi-nomadic native tribes who made use of the abundant wild animals, plants, and clean water found here. Native culture changed drastically in the mid-1800s when our government subdued them through wars and treaties, and relocated/restricted them to reservations; then, conveniently, this region was parceled out to Europeans immigrants and others who wished to own and cultivate land through the Homestead Act. My own life directly benefited: I was raised on land in northeast Nebraska my Danish grandparents farmed in the late 1800s, land purchased from sod-busting homesteaders. Today, the landscape has been greatly simplified by agribusiness, the majority of the population lives in cities, and prairies mostly exist only in remnant parcels. I consider myself lucky to live in a place I love, but often in my writing, I contemplate an earlier time and all that is now forever lost."
—Twyla M. Hansen
“I’m an urbanite but when I started teaching at the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and discovered the numinous openness of Nevada, something unnamed untangled me. Standing under the crisp golden-red light then the infinite dark at Great Basin for the first time felt like being in the middle of my heart and asking, where do I go from here? Where does one go after they’ve lived wars, been too close to death’s shadows, and then sees a version of heaven? Can we give ourselves permission to inhale its glory without betraying those who couldn’t flee, or didn’t survive? Perhaps we are meant to see such wonder to inform us of how beauty resists.”
“I focus here on the area of the trail in New Hampshire around Franconia Notch in the White Mountains, and the poem lifts its imperative voice from ‘Directive’ by Robert Frost, who lived in Franconia with his family for a few years after his return from England. Striking to me is the egalitarian spirit of the trail—all are welcome, and you’ll find no fee or turnstile at its hundreds of trailheads. The trail was built by volunteers and is maintained by volunteers. The practice ‘Leave No Trace’ is part of a long tradition of trail etiquette encouraging respect for other hikers and wildlife, and the preservation of wild spaces. The poem became in part a meditation on that directive.”
"I constantly insist that my students search for the pictures they're not seeing, the voices they're not hearing. And I'm endlessly fascinated by the lost-ago voices that inhabit dusty, deserted structures such as the Immigrant Hospital on the south side of Ellis Island. I imagine the newly arrived immigrants, numbed and weary, confronted by confounding medical equipment and mysterious tests that could decide their future in the United States. This poem conjures one woman in line for her examination, trying desperately to suppress everything that was "other" about her, not knowing if her features, unfamiliar way of speaking or even the faint spell of a foreign spice in her clothing would be considered symptoms of 'sickness.'"
“White Sands, in southern New Mexico, is the site of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. In summer, the sunlight can be blinding; the temperature can rise to over 100 degrees. At sunset, when the sand is cooling, it is marvelous to walk along a ridge, and I’ve used this physical edge to explore memory and desire.”
“I have been thinking about how it is possible to live under the current political conditions we find ourselves in. President Obama made Stonewall a national park after Orlando happened, maybe out of guilt, a little gift for the gays. He has an opportunity now during his final days to make a strong statement about Standing Rock, to speak out against the Dakota Access Pipeline. He promised the Standing Rock Sioux tribe he would respect their sovereignty. I want to see him make good on this promise.”
—Julian Talamantez Brolaski
"This ode is to Connemara, the house where the Sandbergs lived from 1935 to 1966, now a National Park in Flat Rock, North Carolina. There they raised their family while Lillian bred prize-winning goats, and Carl wrote many of his most notable books. I had a formative visit there as a child growing up in North Carolina, and am revisiting Sandberg’s importance to me as a writer who also uses folklorist practices. In that spirit, I weave strands of others’ words into this poem. I use rewritten or collaged lines from a traditional Appalachian Ballad, from family sayings, as well as sampled or transformed lines by both of the Sandbergs, as well as from poets Kevin Evans, and CA Conrad. It was during their reading at the Altamont Poetry Series in nearby Asheville that I began to write this poem."
—Lee Ann Brown
“The North Country Trail leaves Minnesota and heads toward Fort Abercrombie just above my hometown—Wahpeton, North Dakota. This poem envisions the tallgrass prairie as I have seen last remaining swaths of it in areas of the trail. The poem depicts events that took place when the grassland was unbroken and when our great-grandfather, Keesh-ke-mun-ishiw/Joseph Gourneau, serving as an altar boy and standard bearer for a Catholic priest, was photographed at Fort Abercrombie in 1870. The path the North Country Trail traces from the Lake Superior shore through the North Dakota grasslands, maps the migration of my Ojibwe ancestors as they moved, and were removed, from their territories as treaties decreed. For me, and for other Native Americans, a map of the trail tells a specific story, one of tribal history. The Grasslands stand as an emblem of peace for me—the hush of wind in tall grasses, the surprise of wild roses and rare lilies, the open faces of sunflowers in fields, the prairie potholes where water is life and the home of thousands of birds—this peace, like the weathered wooden structures of previous centuries, remains for everyone to walk by along the western section of the North Country Trail.”
—Heid E. Erdrich
About the Sioux-Chippewa Peace Conference of 1870, with photograph
For further reading: American Indians and National Parks by Robert H. Keller and Michael F. Turek
"When I was invited to write about a national park in Ohio I thought about the purpose of parks, often bearing the names of nations or tribes who were dislocated from that place or who don’t exist anymore. I thought of the way our monuments and memorials efface or recreate histories. And I was immediately captivated by a park very close by to where I live, the smallest national park in the country, a memorial to David Berger, an athlete who was killed at the age of 27. And I thought of Mohammed Al-Khatib, a young athlete of the same age whom I had just met. And I wondered if Mohammed and David had ever met what would they have made of each other? Could they have been friends? That is how the poem began but like poems do, this one took on a life of its own. Soon in thinking about memory and history I was compelled to think about physics, about music, about the ordinary and extraordinary lengths we go to mediate the present through the past. While I was writing this poem the Pakistani Qawali singer Amjad Sabri was killed in Karachi on his way to sing. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. Sabri too entered the poem. It was Olga Broumas who invented the term hesperine when I confessed to her I couldn’t think of a name for the form I was developing for this poem. It was only after she gave me the form that I discovered that the ancient Greeks thought Hesperus and Phosporus to be two brothers, not in fact the same heavenly body."
About This Poem
"At dawn on November 27, 1868, Lt. Colonel George A. Custer and the soldiers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked a Cheyenne village along the Washita River, a village of which Chief Black Kettle was the leader. Most notably, Chief Black Kettle was a 'peace chief' who had repeatedly tried to negotiate reconciliation with the American government, even in the face of all the treaties that had been violated by Americans—and even after a previous massacre of Cheyenne people at Sand Creek on the Great Plains. Over one hundred of the Cheyenne people died in that so-called 'Washita Battle'—including Chief Black Kettle, his wife Medicine Woman Later, and many women and children; those who were not killed were taken as prisoners. For me, there can be no justification for what the American government did to the Cheyenne people that November morning. For me, there was no 'battle'—it was a massacre, plain and simple—and it was important that I translate the tragic syllables of war into a language of sacred acknowledgement of the struggles of Indigenous peoples in this place we now call America."
—Honorée Fannone Jeffers
"Crater Lake is ancient, current, volatile and still, deeper than the eye can see. It is significant to millions of people who have lived among it or visited it for thousands of years, including witnesses to the massive eruptions that formed it, such as ancestors of Klamath tribal members. How do I begin to write about Crater Lake as one person whose life is perched on a tiny, tiny notch of its geologic time? I began right there: I gave Crater Lake my attention and with that ushered onto the page where else my attention hovered—namely to lives in peril. Crater Lake, too, is evidence of peril, of extraordinary and fearsome power, of a future I can’t fathom. What I can do is think about how I am alive in this moment when Crater Lake looks like a blue, blue lake, and some of us gaze out on its beauty, and some of us don’t. And as I moved through this poetic investigation of the nation’s deepest lake, my poem, too, plunged down the page, longer than I would have predicted: I painted my first draft down, down a scroll of packing paper."
“Much of my youth was spent on family road trips to National Parks—I can map with ease the different phases of my childhood and adolescence based on the geography of the parks system in the United States. In many ways, the NPS was how I learned about this country and the people who lived in it; ‘The Permanent Way’ attempts to correct some of the omissions in that early education, of which there were many.”
"I was walking on the trails and thinking about how few words there are in English for smells, but so many for colors. And even with the wealth of language we have for color, we can never really capture it. In the fall, with all the leaves on the ground, and the cloudy sky, everything is a bit dull, but when you look closely you see that each leaf is it's own shade of brown or yellow or red, and each patch of moss is it's own color, each grey slightly different between stones and sky."
“The Congaree National Park is the largest old-growth natural forest in the southeast, located on a river floodplain and full of some of the oldest, tallest trees in the state, and it’s about a thirty minute drive from my house in the city. Walking out over the swamp on the two-and-a-half mile elevated boardwalk, I feel turned two ways at once: in my head and out of it, in the right place and in a random one. This double feeling is one I’ve been pursuing in my work—I want my speaker’s voice to feel both old and new, public and personal—and so, though the poem began as something occasional, it ended as an ars poetica.”
About This Poem
"Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature/technology binary, and the false ways in which we’re led to assume that nature can be mastered (or further colonized) by technology. At the same time, we fetishize nature as ripe for conquering with problematically gender-laden verbiage such as pristine, untouched, and pure. I think this is why, when I’m traveling through the Badlands, so many of my favorite photographs that I take deconstruct the illusion of this false binary and involve the collision of nature with the made-made: signage, pylons, cars. I think nature’s ultimately not masterable/colonizable, and the destruction of nature also means the destruction of technology: climates change, oceans rise, and earthquakes shake down technological empires like matchsticks. I think this is one of the things I love so much about the Badlands, why I find the intensity of its beauty so powerful and humbling—the ways in which it simultaneously encompasses permanence and monument, yet also (in terms of geological time, which lies outside the frames of our individual perception) flux; the ways in which the Badlands shapeshifts in response to climate, shadow, season, and light on a day to day basis, while also engaging in the slow transformation of geological shapeshifitng. My hope was to capture some of these elements in “badlands: a song of flux, out of time.”
—Lee Ann Roripaugh
“Left to my own devices, I would never have written a poem about Bryce Canyon. What on earth could I contribute to such a place? But asked for a poem about a Utah National Park, I had to choose my beloved Bryce—the most astonishing natural wonder I know. After all, a poem is not about contributing to a place, but interacting with it, discovering something through it, and, one hopes, making one’s own individual connections. Trying to write this poem in the short time between the request and the deadline turned out to be an expansive experience, enabling me to talk about the Bible, the ways we see and understand our world, the notion of geological time, the interactions between art and science. I think it is even something of an ars poetica. The poem ends, ‘Just let me stand here with an open eye,'—and while I really do mean what the line says on the surface level—that, in a place like Bryce, just opening one’s eyes is sufficient—I also mean what is suggested sonically: that the place makes me long for ‘an open I’ that might be pervaded and enlarged by this landscape.”
“In cataloguing the harmful effects of man’s impact on Earth from both a historical and scientific perspective, George Perkins Marsh, diplomat, scholar, and writer from Vermont, effectively launched the environmental movement as we know it today. His was the first and loudest cry to call attention to deforestation, over-fishing, and soil erosion, among other abuses, which led to the founding of the National Forest System and the National Park Service, signed into existence by an Act of Congress on August 25, 1916.”
“Like many children, I grew up fascinated by horses. Although I lived in a relatively rural area, I rarely saw real ones. Yet my imagination was filled with the wild ponies I read about in Marguerite Henry’s books and a set of exquisite molded resin horses that were passed down to me by my older brother. In this poem I hoped to be able to honor the innocent wonder that is still made available to us still through the preservation of the herds at Assateague, while at the same time acknowledging the very conflicted history of our country and the deeply troubling and disappointing state of our nation in this current election season, realities that a child’s romanticized view of the world blissfully omits but that we, as adults and citizens, may have a moral obligation to reckon and address with as much grace and compassion as we can. There still seems to be so much solace and wisdom to be gained from looking into the faces of animals.”
"Several years ago, I watched a lunar eclipse from Mount Rainier National Park. This summer, as I hiked deep into the ash-gray trough that once held the Paradise glacier, I thought of the mountain/moon exchange that lies at the heart of the poem."
"The National Parks are famous for providing privacy and beauty to the murderer and the suicide. The Shenandoah is a river I have lived near all of my life and it dies and vanishes at Harpers Ferry, a town just down the road from me. I thought I’d write an elegy for what rushes to its death at all times every day."
"Watery islands resist measurement. Likewise, their histories. The current count of twenty-one islands that make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, does not include the islands submerged over the passage of time nor does it include Madeline Island, the traditional ceremonial site for the Anishinaabeg. Indeed, the vital archipelago is change incarnate. I wanted to suggest the layered palimpsest of history here, to gesture in the poem to the literal buried bodies of ships and sailors and horses, and birchbark canoes, but also to the submerged histories including that of ecological devastation through fur trade, logging, and quarry mining. And yet, the islands also embody adaptation and survivance—their immeasurable beauty includes cliffs and pillars and arches formed over centuries, and trees turned into corkscrew shapes by wind. Like most natural places, they also house mysteries—here the 'singing sand' and the lulling transformation of visitors to these ancient island outposts. Transience never sits neatly in records—how do we map becoming? The challenge is similar to that of poets searching for the buttress of language amid the ineffable."
“My wife, who was born in Wyoming, tells me that when she was a child they now and again traveled to Yellowstone to see what life in a city would be like. I’ve thought a lot about the number of people that visit Yellowstone and the strangeness of the scene—the grandest, most exotic natural features—the mudpots, the hot springs, Old Faithful—crossed with traffic jams. And then Ed Trafton, a man who made tourism in the park into a Hollywood comedy about stagecoach robbery, but Ed couldn’t decide if he was showman or thief. As to the link between Ed’s time and ours, I’ll leave that to the reader.”