Wenatchee Valley College will celebrate the planet and poetry Monday, with events on campus all day to recognize Earth Day and Poetry Month.
Highlights of the event include sustainability tours led by WVC faculty Joan Qazi, information tables by local and regional organizations and a presentation by Jim White, senior energy efficiency engineer at the Chelan County PUD and winner of the American-Made Solar Prize from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A full schedule is available at wvc.edu.
From 1-2:30 p.m., a visiting writers and WVC student poetry reading will take place in The Grove Recital Hall. Student winners of the WVC Earth Day Poetry Contest will read their work alongside visiting writers Alison Hawthorne Deming and Simmons B. Buntin.
WVC English faculty and local poet Derek Sheffield is one of the event organizers. Sheffield spoke with Deming via email about her writing, her interest in the natural world, education and activism.
Deming is an American poet, essayist and teacher. She is currently professor in creative writing at the University of Arizona. She is also the great-granddaughter of famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of the Seven Gables.”
Derek Sheffield (DS): When and how did you know that the natural world was going to be a primary concern for you as a writer?
Alison Hawthorne Deming (AHD): When I was a child, I wrote a poem for my father’s birthday about his battle in the vegetable garden with the rabbits who were stealing his carrots. So love, nurture and struggle with nature inspired me from the get-go.
DS: Do you think poetry has a special relationship with wilderness? Or can prose do similar work?
AHD: Language has the power to engage us with both inner and outer worlds, and to bridge our differences across divides. Whether in poetry or prose, writing can speak for the mysterious intensities we feel when encountering the power and beauty of wilderness — and our grief at its diminishment. Poetry, because it is so compact and musical, is especially good at this. Poetry is our birdsong.
DS: Some believe science and poetry belong in separate rooms, but not you. How do these two powerful fields interact with one another in your writing?
AHD: I see strong movement to bring art and science together, since both are ways of knowing that deepen our connection to the natural systems that sustain us. I’ve been involved with zoos, museums, etc. working to enhance their science education with poetry. Science inspires me to look more closely at nature and gives me language that stokes my process. We need to become a more science-literate society, and for those who don’t geek out on data, poetry can turn them on to the dazzling discoveries science continues to make. Poetry can bring heart and soul into the data.
DS: As a writer of deep ecology in the time of the sixth mass extinction and our species’ failure to address the climate crisis, what gives you hope?
AHD: I’ve made a moral decision to be hopeful, because otherwise the grief over our losses is too overwhelming. Nature teaches endless lessons in resilience, so that gives me hope. Local action, vocal youth, human inventiveness and empathy give me hope. Every new day gives me hope.
Holly Thorpe is a writer and editor for the community relations department at Wenatchee Valley College. Derek Sheffield teaches English at Wenatchee Valley College and is the poetry editor of Terrain.org. Learn more about WVC at wvc.edu.