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Contemplating Nature’s Changing Role in Poetry

Categories: Commentary, Guest Posts, Poets Helping Poets, Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides Blog, What's New.

Thursdays will be guest post days going forward on the Poetic Asides blog. Daniel Roessler will kick things off for the guest posts with a three-part series on nature. The other two parts will run on the 10th and 17th.

If you’re interested in writing a guest post, please just send me an informal e-mail at robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with your idea (or ideas). Also, please include a note about yourself.

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As someone who loves the outdoors, I’ve always been partial as both a reader and author to nature themes in poetry. However, it sometimes feels like a daunting task to create original work when the subject of nature has been so prominent in poetry throughout history.

How am I going to say something more insightful or eloquent than William Wordsworth or Robert Frost?

Whenever I’m struggling with how to create original poems, I ask myself questions. Here’s one I recently considered: Is the role of nature in our lives today changing and can that lend itself to new twists on nature poems?

I’ve found that the answer is unequivocally yes.

Rural v. Urban Landscape

When rural life was predominant, nature was central to the lives of a majority of the population. For example, farmers were outdoors from dawn until dusk and nature was a means to an end. Even those who didn’t work outdoors often lived on acreage and were in steady contact with nature.

This translated to intimate daily encounters with the natural world, which the poetry from these periods often reflected. As populations have increased in urban areas and decreased in rural areas, for many, nature is no longer an essential element of their daily lives. While it obviously still provides our food and water supply, a detailed knowledge of nature in this way is less prevalent.

For many in urban areas, nature encounters have transitioned from work activities to weekend hikes or strolls through the park. This difference is significant because it shifts the perspective of nature from a fundamental life-sustaining element to a recreational refuge.

While this isn’t true on a universal basis, it’s one example of how nature’s role has shifted in our society over time.

Other Natural Shifts to Consider

Another point to consider is how changes in our communities have affected nature. For example, write a poem from the vantage point of a bird whose home has been destroyed by the construction of a new shopping mall, or poem about a dog’s take on living inside a high-rise building rather than on a fifty-acre farm.

Alternately, consider how the supply and demand on natural resources today has influenced the environment around us.

In the process of exploring nature in my poetry, it has become clear that we all share common experiences with the natural world. Our poems should not fear this commonality but instead celebrate it as a primary reason that nature poetry resonates with so many readers. However, the natural world is ever changing and focusing on these transformations can be a great source of fuel for bringing unique and original aspects to you nature poems.

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Daniel Roesseller

Daniel Roessler

Daniel Roessler is an author and poet who recently placed 4th in our Writers Digest SIJO competition with “Drowning” and 5th in our Triversen competition with “The Eulogy”. He is also the author of one non-fiction book, seeking representation for his recently completed novel, and has two poetry chapbooks in progress. For more information on Daniel, visit his website at www.danielroessler.com.

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About Robert Lee Brewer

Senior Content Editor, Writer's Digest Community.

6 Responses to Contemplating Nature’s Changing Role in Poetry

  1. Too often we view nature from a romanticized perspective, knowing little about the its web of relationships and specifics. Last night while reading from my work in Chattanooga, TN, a member of the audience asked me if we had yet moved beyond the descriptive “nature poet” being a liability. I answered that now being a poet immersed in the realities of the natural world and how we humans are embedded in that web of relationships should be the most desirable description a poet could wish to have. I love Wordsworth, yes, but think of the writers we now have bringing a tactile, knowledgeable, at times mystical approach to the natural world—and you will see how rich a legacy we have to celebrate. Pattiann Rogers, Janisse Ray, William Woolfitt, Will Wright, the amazing Barry Lopez, whose essays approach poetry in their depth and beauty of language….so many fine writers that continue to open up that catch-all subject “nature” to a new vision, a new way of being in the natural world.

  2. DanielR says:

    Thanks for the comments. It is just great to be a part of the Writer’s Digest poetry community!

  3. BDP says:

    Nicely said. Lots to think about. Thanks!

  4. Linda.E.H says:

    I’ve often thought the same thing. I am looking forward to this series of posts..

  5. jasonlmartin says:

    Great perspective, Daniel, and I totally agree that we get stuck in our own heads sometimes and we don’t explore taking on the vantage points of other living things. There are infinite possibilities in how nature can be explored in poetry, and no one should feel that it’s all be said before. In fact, I’d like to see a future Wednesday Poetry Prompt about making nature a central character in a poem (if that hasn’t been prompted before, Robert!).

  6. PressOn says:

    I am excited about this series. I grew up in a city but my wife grew up on a farm; I can appreciate two perspectives, though not the rural one so much as she. Frost is one of my favorite poets, although I sometimes wonder if he’s a “nature” poet, at least to the extent of Wordsworth. In any case, I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts, and thank you for them.

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