Follow-Up To Breathing

Lost in the responsibilities of teaching middle school, starting a new business, and my new duties as PSOV President, I didn’t realize four weeks have passed since my last post. I thought it had been two. That’s what happens when you don’t “show up” every day. Another lesson learned.  But in these four weeks I’ve been thinking…

In the beginning of February, I had the opportunity to snowshoe in the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado. After a couple hours of climbing at eleven thousand feet, a shift in perceptions occurs.

Follow-Up To Breathing

Into Arapaho
I begin the ascension
on snowshoes:

James Peak
and the daily grind vie
for time. Tracks

lead under the water
pipe six feet around,

no efficiency in water
falls. Clambering
to a higher ground,

all the outside
leaches in through
porous skin:

sun, wind,
caribou scat, a bobcat’s
print, a mountain

chickadee’s flash
and dee-dee-dee
slice my thoughts.

With every step
closer to the crown,
blood pushes, pounds

to escape: my shirt
thumps, a panicked
heart shatters

this solitude,
this silence
that I sought.

My heartbeat echoes,
scatters clouds
from electric indigo.

Sweat seeps, visions
creep in then clear.
I lumber through

a tunnel of pines;
snow ghosts leap
from dancing boughs,

waft down, swirl
around my body.
Is it there? Trudging,

I appear in open
skies; pines’ shadows
blanket untouched snow.

Rainbow clouds ring
the cascading face.
A hawk scolds

in a sun of gold;
my breath:
wood smoke.


Eco-poetry is a relatively new term in literature that distinguishes itself from “nature poetry.” In eco-poetry, we take on a more sophisticated and complex view of nature, one in which we recognize that we are not above nature or separate from nature. In eco-poetry we don’t romanticize nature, but recognize that we are responsible for our role in it.  Here is a minute and 48 second introduction:

“Eco-poetry,” really, has been around as long as poetry itself. Songs, philosophizing, and story-telling – that is, relating to the world through words – are a deep part of who we are on this planet. Haven’t our interactions with the stars and oceans, blizzards and each other been recorded in poetry since we were capable of doing so?

One of the great “eco-poets” and by that I mean “poets,” is Joy Harjo. Read her book, How We Became Human. You’ll understand.

One of the shifts occurring with “eco-poetry” is the analysis of how we use language in our relationship to the natural world. Walt Whitman and and Emily Dickinson certainly wrote about their place in nature, and did so with very different methods. What impact did their styles have on their viewpoints of the world, and what impact did their viewpoints of the world have on their styles?

In the above poem, “Follow-Up To Breathing,” the short haiku-like stanzas found themselves on my page after much experimentation with the line break.  After getting down the basic descriptions of my experience in Arapahoe, I turned to the line. I tend to create lines of 6 to 10 syllables that are generally iambic. This wasn’t working so I lengthened them, almost doubling the length, making it twice as bad!

The lines were way too long and wordy for what happened up on that mountain – it wasn’t an experience that was so premeditated; it was an experience that came in spurts. As I climbed higher in elevation, little things were beginning to happen to me, and I worked at remembering the sensual experience of it, all those sights, sounds, smells, particular to those hours on that trail that day.  Short spurts of stanzas that mirrored the short spurts of sensual experiences were the natural selection for this poem.

Side note: Two of the best books regarding nature and “eco-poetry,” in my opinion, are John Elder’s Reading the Mountains of Home and Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth.  It took me a few starts to get through Elder’s book; in it he analyzes Frost’s “Directive” while traveling and exploring Vermont and reflecting on the link between past and present, nature and person, poetry and place. Only after attending a lecture by Paul Muldoon on Frost’s “Directive” was I able to go back and understand Reading the Mountains of Home. I have to admit though, I need all the help I can get when I comes to the analysis of anything.  As for The Song of the Earth, it is a book that I could read many times and get something more from it each time. Full of historical, cultural, and literary connections to ecology, the environment, and nature, the book provides a detailed overview of why poetry IS the song of the earth.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, etc.):
What is Eco Poetry – a blog post from The Poetry Foundation
Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry – an excellent anthology recommended by Tim Seibles
One of my go-to poems that tells me what a poem should/could be, from the above anthology: Down From the House of Magic, by Cyrus Cassells
Walt Whitman and the earth – A study of eco poetics
Conference on Ecopoetics, Berkeley – This just ended on Feb. 24, but is an annual conference held every February.
An Ecopoetry Anthology