When University of Minnesota Duluth senior Stine Myrah needs a break from working on behalf of people, the Earth, and the climate, she goes down to Gitchigumi. Myrah has a symbiotic relationship with her surroundings. She advocates for people and planet tirelessly, and simultaneously she takes sustenance from them.
In her poem, “Cradled by Gaia,” she rhapsodizes about how our seasons and scenery inspire her:
“I am never alone in my hammock,
“For I am surrounded by living beings,
“Cradled by Gaia.”
Myrah is one of five student poets who will read at Climate Emergency Poetry 7, a public poetry reading at 3 p.m. today on Zoom. As a Northland poet and member of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, she gives and gets in equal measure. But our deteriorating climate is making all our collective efforts, large and small, increasingly problematic because time is running out.
After years of trying to understand and solve climate change, there are new distractions, the pandemic being only the most existential. The economy, race relations, immigration, our divided country, gun violence, and more all add weight and gloom. But hanging over Earth like an increasingly sodden, ominous cloak of misery is the unrelenting warming of the atmosphere.
It’s easy to turn away and face more immediate problems, of which there is no short supply. It should be just as easy to make small adjustments in our lives and to start pulling our weight in the most critical campaign of our lifetime. This means more than simply turning down the heat, driving less, or joining conservation organizations. These are important, for sure, but taken together, the difference they make is small. Individual efforts functionally disappear in the face of a looming catastrophe.
Tone Lanzillo of the Duluth/365 group points out that what’s needed are consciousness, commitment, community, and collaboration.
The Twin Ports area is blessed with dozens of poets, the vast majority of whom draw upon the environment for both inspiration and material.
Former Duluth Poet Laureate Sheila Packa feels particularly close to and responsible for the land. “If we write about the places we love, about the places in the landscape that have marked us or moved us, we also honor those places,” Packa says. “It is most important … to understand that forests are not ‘board feet’ of lumber, that minerals and ores in the ground are not tonnage, (and) that wetlands are not wastelands. Whatever happens to those resources also happens to our bodies.”
Liz Minette of Duluth Public Access Community Television sees her local concerns as potentially having broader relevance. “Writing poetry about and regarding climate change,” she says, “allows me to focus on some aspect of that change, usually something happening locally, in hopes that it also applies or speaks universally.”
Twin Ports poets take seriously their role as protectors of and spokespersons for the Earth. Duluth Poet Laureate Gary Boelhower puts this responsibility succinctly: “When I pay attention, I am brought again and again to wonder and gratitude. … I want to leave a legacy of beauty, not destruction.”
Regular Climate Energy Poetry guest and New Hampshire poet Charlie Butterfield says: “Poetry can help (if you) allow a poet’s response to touch your eye, your ear, and give you pause. Know that what the poet is on about is you and what you must still love about diminishing and endangered Earth.”
Stay receptive, active, and introspective. Follow Stine Myrah’s example. Introducing her personal refuge, she says simply, “There is a place I go to reconnect with myself.”
This is what Climate Emergency Poetry encourages: reconnecting — with climate, with Earth, and ultimately with ourselves.
Phil Fitzpatrick of Duluth is a retired educator and co-host of Climate Emergency Poetry, a monthly public reading on Zoom that addresses the climate crisis. Today’s reading is at 3 p.m. For the Zoom link, email Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.