Earth Day 2001
Poems | History
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From Lisa Roullard's "Earth Day's Visual Poetry In Action" in the April 19-25, 2001, issue of The Local Planet.

At ten a.m. this Sunday, April 22, 2001 an eight-foot wide by twelve-foot high "poem board" decorated with earthforms will rise from the lawn in Riverfront Park's Lilac Bowl as part of this year's Earth Day celebration. Artist Rik Nelson and various post-consumer recyclables (shampoo bottles, soda cans, etc.) will be standing by as poets, clad in turquoise T-shirts and "poet" necklACE, begin to interact with festival goers.

Thus begins Visual Poetry in Action, a day-long event of community art and poem making. The poets, made up of masters students and alumni from Eastern Washington University's Creative Writing Program and one M.E.A.D. High School student, will hand out information sheets to all festival goers inviting them in 25 words or less to write down their feelings about the environment, the beauty of the earth and their hopes for its future. Select words and phrases will then be fit into recognizable poetic forms such as haiku and cinquain. Information sheets not completed at the park can be submitted later to Nelson by mail or email.

"To create out of other people's input is exciting," says Jen Reid, an EWU masters student. "The structure will draw attention. I think people in general will be responsive when they see what we're doing. It will help them look at poetry in a different way."

Over the course of the day, Nelson will draw from his pool of recyclables and begin cutting out letters. The letters will then be stapled, nailed, wired, or screwed on to the poem board, embellishing it, and merging spontaneous poems with prefabricated earthforms.
Student Heather Phillips became involved after Nelson mentioned the project while speaking about art at M.E.A.D. She has been teaching poetry to fourth graders at Lake Spokane Elementary and likes that Visual Poetry in Action involves people of all ages. "The general public will be amazed that they can write poetry," she says.

And, as Nelson says, "We're trusting process and the creativity of the people who show up at the festival. We're acting as mediums to create from their reflections on our environment poetic and visual works of art."

Why art and poetry as part of Earth Day? Because throughout time these forms have been employed by people to talk about the things most important to them, things of core importance - in this particular case, the earth. "These forms employ higher critical thinking skills," Nelson says, "and create things beyond the literal." The result, he feels, achieves a "heart-to-heart connection."




Jellyfish seaweed
on brown ocean coast mudhole.
Swim! Splash down! Skip rocks!


Our names stand for trees
emerge evolve into dark soil
grass grows toward stars
on earth we are not homeless
the river helps us to sleep


Bull trout
over mute cliffs
rising life force, blade glow,
broken orb steward, brite teeth glint.
Bull trout.

Free Verse

Why would you want to be a meditative frog?
Choose good! No one gets the cheetah.
Weird worms catboat on parade.
Tiger Tommy spoils us with diverse knots.
Hot hunted monkey bird. Eight shades
of trading plACE with big purple fish.
Earth is not a prototype.


Sun shimmers air to earth.
Wake up! Greet the new earth day.

Ancestors in motion echo riptide flamingoes.
Where will we go, Terra Gaia?

To pluck love, roost in rain…
happiness, sweet breath, marble.

Blue-eyed river unfurls;
waves trace earth & earth & oak.

Pick up the pieces --
we cannot make another color green!



The tradition of Earth Day began in San Francisco, California on March 21, 1970. The following year, Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin declared a National Observance of Earth Week for the 3rd week of April as an annual event throughout the U.S. Soon, Earth Day was celebrated in every major city across America. Since 1990, Earth Day has been celebrated around the world in over 140 countries. Today, Earth Day continues to be a time to reflect on our impact on this beautiful planet we call home, and to focus on solutions to help overcome environmental challenges.


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