“Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.”

Alberto Ríos

Poetry can serve as a tool for addressing concerns about the changing world and climate, as well as provide words of guidance on the future, moving forward, and new beginnings. Below are poems and activities contemplating and offering solutions for the future.

Camp Activities

The following activities have been adapted from “Teach This Poem: “Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now” by Matthew Olzmann.” They can be done alone or with a guardian, sibling, friend, or partner.

  1. Warm-up: Sketch a picture of what you think the world will look like in fifty years. Share with your partner if you have one, and describe what you sketched.  

  2. Before Reading the Poem: Look at the image of the print “Leaving the Opera in the Year 2000.” Discuss with your partner how this image compares to your sketch. 

  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem “Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years From Now” by Matthew Olzmann silently. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have. 

  4. Listening to the Poem: Listen as the poem is read aloud by the poet. Write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your partner.

  5. Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner. Based on these details, how might the poem compare or contrast with your image of the future or the print of “Leaving the Opera in the Year 2000?” 

  6. Discussion: What imagery stands out in the poem? Why? What might the speaker in the poem want the future person to know about the past? 

  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Write a poem to someone fifty years in the future. What do you want to tell this person about your life right now? Or, with your partner discuss ways to make your home or school more environmentally friendly.

  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Create a time capsule. Decide with your partner when you want to open it and what you want to include. What objects in your home or school might take on a different meaning in the future? 

Prompt to Do

What would you say to people in the future who might not understand why we didn't do everything we could to save the planet?

All rights reserved. Excerpted from Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire (Spruce Books, 2020) by permission of Sasquatch Books. Written by Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs, designed by Krzysztof Poluchowicz.

Poet to Know

Linda Hogan

Linda Hogan received a BA from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and an MA from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

She is the author of several poetry collections, including Dark. Sweet.: New & Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2014); Rounding the Human Corners (Coffee House Press, 2008); The Book of Medicines (Coffee House Press, 1993), which received the Colorado Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Seeing Through the Sun (University of Massachusetts Press, 1985).

Of The Book of MedicinesJoy Harjo writes, “Linda Hogan’s poetry has always been a medicine of sorts…. These poems in particular cross over to speak for us in the shining world. They bring back words for healing, the distilled truth of all these stories that are killing us with tears and laughter.”

Hogan is also the author of several works of prose, including The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir (W. W. Norton, 2001). Her first novel, Mean Spirit (Atheneum, 1990), was a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize.

She currently serves as writer-in-residence for the Chickasaw Nation, and in 2007 she was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. Her other honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, the Henry David Thoreau Prize for Nature Writing, a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas.

Hogan has taught at the Indian Arts Institute and the University of Colorado, where she is a professor emerita. She lives in Colorado.

Poems to Read

Beyond the Years” by Paul Laurence Dunbar 
The Future Is Here” by Bianca Stone
Youth” by Langston Hughes
Notes from a Climate Victory Garden” by Louise Maher-Johnson
Nimbawaadaan Akiing / I Dream a World” by Margaret Noodin

Term to Learn

This week’s poetic term is epistolary poem also known as an epistle, a poem of direct address that reads as a letter.