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Students Explore the Power of Poetry to Illuminate Environmental Issues 
Jim Morrison, director of student outreach and special projects


The Connection of Everything

And then the white veins of the white leaves on the
white stem that buries itself into the ground where the 
white roots tangle and entangle and entwine and intertwine

and above the ground are the
tangled entangled entwined intertwined

(Excerpt from “The Connection of Everything,” a poem by Isabelle S. ’23)

Over the past semester, students in English 10 have been immersed in a unit focused on eco-poetry. Throughout the year, teachers and students investigate a variety of issues brought on by colonialism, post-colonialism, and globalization.

“Poetry is political and subversive. It has the power to spark conversation, inspire change, and make a profound impact,” said Amber Carpenter, upper school English teacher. “Why not talk about climate change and industrialization and urbanization and conservation in our classrooms? After all, this generation of students are the ones who will continue to fight for our planet. At Nueva, they already are.”

Some essential questions from the course, the themes of which are a constant presence at Nueva, include:

  • How do different cultures understand the relationship between the individual and the collective or community?
  • In what ways are the individual and the collective in conflict with each other?
  • In what ways do the individual and the collective support or complement each other?

“In this case, the collective is not necessarily defined as a group of human beings; instead, we can consider the collective as our environment, that which we are dependent upon and vice versa,” Amber explained.

So what is eco-poetry? According to poet Forrest Gander, eco-poetry "investigates—thematically and formally—the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception.”

Using this definition as their guide, students studied environmentalism and globalization through the lens of poetry and then crafted their own eco-poems inspired by a collection of poetry titled "Poetry and the Environment," from the website, Poetry Foundation.

Students were asked to create an original, spoken word eco-poem performed in a video with images and provide a close-reading analysis of their eco-poem, which addressed tone, form, imagery, and poetic devices of their poem. Students were also asked to make connections to the poems that had been discussed and analyzed in class.

Reflecting on her poem, Juliet S. wrote, “The free-verse poem, ‘Farewell,’ begins with a walk through the beginnings of Earth—tracing time from the emergence of bacteria to Pangea forming to the Ice Ages, as the repetitive use of ‘farewell’ emphasizes how the Earth has thrived for billions of years. The tone then switches, becoming earnest as a birds’ flight is used as an analogy for time.”

Excerpt from “Farewell”

Meteorite collide, a thousand fahrenheit —

As bacteria divide, you did fare well

Now alive, our first clear night—

As Trilobite thrive, you did fare well

Pangea forms, an icy plight—

As rain storms, you did fare well

 

Through a Cambrian Explosion

Elemental erosion

 

Through a Quaternary glaciation

Generational germination 

 

You did fare well

In the analysis of own poem, "The Connection of Everything," Isabelle S. wrote that the poem, "highlights the interconnectedness of humans and nature and how everything is ‘tangled and entangled and entwined and intertwined,’ even though over time, humans have slowly separated from the natural world through societal developments such as technology and construction.”

“Although the poem is free-form, the majority of it takes on a low to high viewpoint as it progresses, from Earth’s core to the ozone layer,” explained Isabelle. Each stanza describes a particular “level” of the world, and within each stanza, there are jumps between nature and humanity, shown through the mirroring lines and the weaving of natural and manmade objects and events together.”

“I find that reading and discussing poetry challenges our students differently than analyzing novels, short stories, and essays,” Amber explained. “I often compare the analysis of poems to paintings in an art gallery: both are subjective and both force the observer to ruminate for a significant amount of time.”

Some students have felt the pull of poetry so strongly. When asked by the communications team for her views on the role poetry can play in addressing issues that affect human life and the planet, Mia T., whose poem for class was entitled "Un-natural Disaster," chose to respond in the form of a poem:

Poetry is a call to our conscience.

It embodies emotion, passion and the human experience

in a construction of words, rhythm, and rhyme.

Words have the power to inspire, to teach, to narrate.

When they are joined in the form of poetry,

they can inspire us to action.

Poetry can teach us what we should do.

Poetry can narrate what is right and what is wrong

Poetry can help us make a better, more beautiful and just world.

To me, poetry is the strongest form of persuasion because it can communicate

from poet to reader a beauty and flow that prose is often unable to accomplish.

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words,

a poem is worth ten thousand more.

 



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