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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Approaches to Nature Poetry


Approaches to Nature Poetry

My mind is a snow globe, shaken, thoughts tumbling, suspended and seeking a way to settle into a familiar scene.  Learning does that to me.

I attended a Maritime Writers’ Workshop on “Approaches to Nature Poetry,”  an event sponsored by University of New Brunswick, College of Extended Learning, and facilitated by Ian Letourneau  Well qualified, he is the author of Terminal Moraine (Thistledown Press 2008), and Defining Range (Gaspereau Press 2006).  He is poetry editor of The Fiddlehead, associate poetry editor with Goose Lane editions, and frequent contributor to CBC as the local book columnist.  His book reviews have appeared in magazines across the country, including The Malahat Review and Books in Canada.

For the workshop, each participant submitted their own poetry, some of which we critiqued together.   We explored samples of animal world poetry by  John Clare, Ted Hughes, Clea Roberts, Les Murray and Jo Shapcott.  We studied landscape poetry through the work of Alden Nowlan, Harry Thurston, Milton Acorn; environmentally conscious poetry from Les Murray and Erin Robinsong.  We shared reading lists, ideas, laughter, examined what makes a poem work and why, looked at how nature poetry has evolved and continues to evolve, we asked questions, found answers (often more than one) and reviewed diverse approaches to nature poetry.

What did I learn?

1. Where I am.   I know basics.  There is much more to learn.  There will always be more to learn. 

2.  Nature poetry must be unsentimental.  Sentimentality, clichés, expected phrases or images draw attention away from nature itself.

3.  Nature poetry should be accurate in detail and language, speak the truth, and use images in the same metaphorical field as the subject of the poem.

4.  Acknowledge anthropomorphism.  Evoke it thoughtfully.  Don McKay author of Vis-à-Vis, Field Notes on Poetry and Wilderness suggests reading field guides as one preparation to writing.  Don explains that writing poetry about nature struggles with the desire to put the experience in words, knowing that it is too easy to quantify nature with human perception, in anthropomorphic terms.  It is more respectful and more accurate to see and experience the event, to translate it from nature’s point of view, without human judgement.

5.  Culture and nature are not two separate concepts.  Even the tiniest seeds are political issues now.   "Everything is political," says Ian.  Culture and nature are intertwined, and as Alden Nowlan remarked, the climate can kill us.

6.  Metaphor and precise description are essential poetic skills.

7.  Poetry is not always serious; neither should I be.

8.  Write regularly.  Be receptive to what comes.  Even on the bad days, there will be beginnings, images, possibilities for another day's writing.

9.  After hard work, play.

10.  Poetry is everywhere.

11.  It takes time to absorb learning, for the brain to settle into new paths.  Sit in the sun, make notes, drink wine and breathe summer.

12.  Write and write and read and read.

Thank you to UNB College of Extended Learning and to Laurie Glenn Norris for organizing these Maritime Writers’ Workshops.  Thank you to UNB CEL for a scholarship to attend Ian’s workshop.   And huge thanks to Ian LeTourneau for patient feedback on my poetry. 

I am grateful for advice given by Ian and by the other writers at the event, for honest feedback, helpful suggestions, reading lists and encouragement.

When my head settles its flurry of thoughts and learning, I’ll continue to write; write nature poetry with an expanded understanding.

 Note:  Learning list item #2 through #6 inclusive are from Ian LeTourneau's notes and /or explanations.
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Crafty Green Poet said...

sounds like it was a great course, and you're right, there's always more to learn

Carol Steel said...

Ian is a superb instructor. And yes, there will always be more to learn.