On Nov. 22nd, UWT poetry and creative writing lecturer Janie Miller hosted an evening of Eco-Poetry at the B Sharp Coffee House. Local poets and UWT students shared pieces that question our emotional and superficial relationship with the environment.
You may be thinking, what makes a poem “eco-poetic”? Miller believes that Eco-Poetry “explores our species’ connection to the environment in a time of global, social, and environmental crisis.”
Miller has been writing about their relationship with nature for 20 years. Miller explains that the purpose of the event was to give the community an opportunity to freely express poetic work that challenges environmental topics in a safe space. The poetry reading exposed the audience to a variety of environmental issues.
A variety of speakers read that night, including students, alumni, a professor, and writers from all different backgrounds. These writers were asked to prepare and present satirical pieces on the environment.
This occasion shows that the UWT community is socially and environmentally conscious. For example, student Mikala Woods read a satirical article that focused on the core values of protecting America’s rights to land and the communities’ rights to clean air and water.
UWT alumni Tien Taylor used descriptive imagery in order to capture her deep connection with her environmental surroundings. Fellow student James Nordland’s poem “Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay” argues that the rising pollution in Bristol Bay may be killing the wild salmon that live there. His other poem “Contemplating Explosive Commodities” focuses on the implications of pesticides.
Senior, Chelsea Vitone addresses the epidemic of teenage girls and their ignorance of animal extinction. Vitone writes, “17-year-old Britney says, ‘It would be freaky if dinosaurs were still around, so I think extinction is good. I mean we still have zoos.’” Student Will Astle’s “Wild Souls Survive” responds to environmental degradation through heavy feelings of depression and anger.
Miller also used the event to showcase a new book release, as well as those of two Seattle poets, Drew Dillhunt and Emily Johnston. Their books explore critical questions about our relationship with the planet in times of environmental crisis. Miller explains that growing up in a military family, place and home were always slippery concepts for them, drawing Miller to a feeling of loss. For decades, Miller has seen alarming environmental degradation and animal extinction.
Miller read excerpts from the chapbook, Primitive Elegy, which connects losses in the environment to earlier losses in Miller’s childhood. Miller says in the dark poem, “Dearest Memory”, “The planet will try to roll us off, oxidize, focalize, buried below a dropping bomb.” Miller is coming out with a book this year called Wilderness Lessons that talks about the experience witnessing environmental degradation and animal extinction. Vitone mentions that Miller’s poems and prose have a way of challenging ignorance and apathy.
The crowd got to hear from Seattle writers as well as the UWT community. Seattle poet Drew Dillhunt has been an associate editor for Hummingbird Press for two years. At this event, he read a new poem called “Temperance Sum” that shows the divide between the personal and the political and how his little relationship with the earth fits into that. In this poem, he took two unrelated topics: the theory of the greenhouse effect that emerged in the 70’s and the first public water in London 1859, and put them together in one poem.
Dillhunt explains that the major themes in his book Leaf is All are “plasticity, our human relationship to the material plastic, and what it means to be a father, and artificial divides we create between things that are human and things that are not human.” Many of his poems are in the voice of his father.
Seattle environmental activist and poet Emily Johnston read sections from her single prose poetry book, Her Animals. Dillhunt states that Johnston’s book is an “investigation of what it means to live in a time when humans are disrupting the environment.” Johnston expressed the depressing truth of what animals experience in modern society.
Why Eco Poetry? Should politics even be in poetry? Why now? According to Dillhunt, Eco-Poetry not only opens the conversation about the human relationship with the environment but it can make people think differently about the issue.
Dillhunt adds, “there’s a way of having a sense of community and shared conversation with these issues beyond this is wrong, but what is the complexity we are dealing with here? How do I believe this is wrong? How am I connected with this and the world?”
Miller states, “We are in a key time in history, in which the effects of global warming have become alarmingly visible, and I think we need art—the art of activism—to understand how to be, to help push us past denial and complacency so we can actively support the people, animals, and places most at risk from environmental degradation.”