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
 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:
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
                                                and from silence and strange air
                                                send a song
                                                to breach the surface
                                                where what we need most
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
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

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

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