Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wendy Erd: Language and Place

Independence Mine State Historical Park  photo credit, Leanne Quirk

I was chatting with a friend recently, an avid poetry reader and a writer, following a celebration of William Stafford’s poetry.  It seemed the perfect time to encourage her to submit a poem or two for our statewide Poems in Place call.  She said she had nothing to offer. “After all,” she asked, “don’t the poems need to be specifically about the particular state parks where they’ll be placed?’

Her answer took me by surprise and prompted the writing of this post. There is so much possibility - not only for my friend- but for you as readers and writers, to create or to discover poems that find synergy with place.  Poems in Place encourages Alaskans to explore a relationship with language and place, both as writers and readers.

From January 15 until March 15, 2014 we are seeking poems for Independence Mine State Historical Park, near Palmer and for Lake Aleknagik State Recreation Site/ Wood Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

Poems in Place, a statewide project was inspired by Stafford’s Methow River poems, a series commissioned by the forest service and set outside on signs in the Methow river valley. Our Alaskan version was launched into being with the passing of a fine Alaskan poet, Kim Cornwall, who loved Stafford and the idea of poems springing out from between book covers.  In 2011 Kim’s poem, What Whales and Infants Know, was placed at Beluga Point in Chugach State Park.

In 2013, Poems in Place invited Alaskans to submit original work /or to nominate poems by Alaskan writers that found resonance with two particular state parks.  From over 100 submissions and nominations, four poems were chosen and found home under the open sky: poems written by Emily Wall and Ernestine Hayes were dedicated in Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan and poems by Frank Soos and John Haines were set in Chena River State Recreation Area, near Fairbanks. To visit these poems please see:http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/misc/poemplace.htm

When I explained more clearly to another friend and writer that we are seeking nominations as well as original work he said, “What a great opportunity to turn over the soil of Alaskan poetry.”  Poems in Place is an invitation to peruse poetry collections, chapbooks, back issues of AQR. It’s also a perfect reason to revisit your own work, or to write an original poem in response to this call.

Literalists and Leapers alike are welcome.  There are many ways to strike up a conversation between language and landscape, to let place be interpreted broadly, spiritually and culturally, as well as geographically.

Kim Stafford, a member of our Poems in Place committee wrote that he liked “the idea of a poem rooted in place but rising to an idea. It's like being in a very particular place and hearing the call of geese going overhead--are they "in" the place? No. But hearing them deepens, enriches, complicates in a beautiful way the experience of being there. So a poem might touch the place very deftly, and then take the reader farther, deeper, differently into this life.”

Try taking a poem outside, read it aloud to the land. Suddenly poem plus place equals more than either by itself. A richness rises.

Kim Cornwall’s poem, What Whales and Infants Know was a great beginning.  It satisfies those interested in white whales while the meaning of her words carries us farther:

A beluga rising
from the ocean’s muddy depths
reshapes its head to make a sound
or take a breath.

                                                I want to come

                                                at air and light like this.
                                                To make my heart
                                                a white arc above the muck of certain days,
                                                and from silence and strange air

                                                send a song

                                                to breach the surface
                                                where what we need most
                                                lives.

Poems in Place invites poems that enter by the door of a particular place and fling wide the windows of association and discovery, inviting a wanderer passing by to stop, read, and find something new in that place and in themself.

Information, rules and entry form for this year’s Poem in Place submissions/nominations are posted at http://www.alaskacenterforthebook.org There is no fee for submissions.


Poems in Place is supported by the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska Poetry League, Alaska Center for the Book, Alaska State Parks and numerous generous individuals.

We look forward to reading your submissions. 

Most recently Wendy Erd wrote poetry that will appear along the Beluga Slough trail in Homer. With the help of an amazing committee of writers, poets and State Parks personnel, she coordinates Poems in Place. 

Lake Aleknagik State Recreation Site/ Wood Tikchik State Park, photo by Kyle Joly. 





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