Friday, April 16, 2010

Earth Day + National Poetry Month = Earth Day Poem

My husband and I walked through a nearby park along the Milwaukee River one beautiful spring morning in early April. We were appalled by the amount of trash we saw on the banks and in the water. We picked up garbage as we walked, and I listed in my notebook some of the things we carried to nearby trash containers. As we walked, I began to hear the poem below forming in my mind. Every item included in the poem is something we picked up that morning. I went back a few days later with my camera to record the heartbreaking scene.

Spring Awakening

Dainty speckled dog’s tooth violet
leaves poke up from warming soil
through a six-foot strip of muddy
shredded plastic bag,
     plastic straws, a root beer can,
     caution tape, a bottle top,
     a lip gloss tube, old newspapers,
     a spray paint can, and one flip-flop.

Two red-bellied woodpeckers
shriek and tap above our heads
as we survey the rushing river
and the garbage on its banks:
     plastic lighter, cigarette butts,
     chunks of broken Styrofoam,
     coffee cups with plastic lids,
     a bandage strip, a plastic comb.

Mama goose sits on her nest
amid the evidence of thoughtless
picnickers and fishermen,
hikers, joggers, families:
     McDonald’s ketchup packet, wrappers
     (Kit-Kat, Slim Jim, Power Shot,
     Cheetos®), plastic bait container,
     broken plastic flower pot.

Multicolored shopping bags
     flutter from just-budding trees.
Ducks glide past a bobbing bottle,
     half a pound of plain cream cheese.

Fish swim under plastic buckets.
Water bottles tip on top
     of water bottles ten feet from
          a trash container—this must stop!

On and on, the river
     carries everything we toss it,
          and we toss too much to bear.

Wake up, people!
Don’t you care
     what happens to this rushing river,
          Mama goose,
          the gliding ducks,
          the fish,
          red bellied woodpeckers?

Wake up and smell the dog tooth violets,
     poking through
          the shredded
               plastic bags.

Writing Workout: List Poem

I believe that as teachers, we have not only the opportunity but the responsibility to impress upon our students the importance—and the urgency—of taking care of our environment—not only on Earth Day, but throughout the year. We can study the effects of pollution, we can participate in cleanup efforts, and we can write!

The poem I wrote about the river is a list poem. Begin one of your own (or help your students write theirs) by thinking of a subject or a place you are passionate about. Observe it carefully or remember it and list its important details. Include more than just the list—tell the reader why the details are important. I used rhyme because I liked the singsong, careless feel it implied and I wanted to lighten the heavy message, but your poem doesn't have to rhyme. Speak your mind and make your message clear.

Out and About

On Saturday, April 17, I'll be at Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, at 3 p.m. for a reading and signing with Jacqueline Houtman (The Reinvention of  Edison Thomas) and Kashmira Sheth (Boys without Names). I'll read Waiting Out the Storm and talk about writing, poetry, and maybe Earth Day. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood!

JoAnn Early Macken


Carmela Martino said...

What a powerful poem, JoAnn. This is indeed a heartbreaking scene.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Wake up and smell the dog tooth violets,
poking through
the shredded
plastic bags.

I love this, love it, JoAnn! You've shown so beautifully the power of being specific. Wow.

Lisa said...

Great poem — thank you for sharing it!

all things poetry said...

Yea! Save the environment through poetry!

Laura Evans

Looking for the Write Words said...

Love this poem that brings together two of my passions ~ the outdoors and poetry! I just discovered your blog this morning. You can count on a new blogger from Rochester, NY.
Many thanks,

Anonymous said...

This poem is sadly universal, I've seen the same. Nature doesn't deserve to our garbage burying it, and I love how this poem shows that is exactly what we are doing.