Coastal Perspectives Lecture – April 20, 2021

Rousing the Ecological Imagination Through Poetry

Margaret Gibson; Connecticut State Poet Laureate, Prof. Emerita, UConn

David K. Leff; Poet, Lecturer, Former Deputy Commissioner of CT DEP


Photo credit: Westport Sunrise, by Michael Levine-Clark, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.   —William Carlos Williams


Poetry is a means by which people can deeply connect with the world around them.  Ecology is a science of connection.  As we rush headlong into the Anthropocene, earth’s complex systems are increasingly lashed to and influenced by human activity.    If the delicate balances among the planet’s organisms and habitats are to survive, humanity has to be roused to good stewardship.  Unfortunately, people must care on a gut level before they’re moved to act.  They often ignore data driven and technically sound warnings because such cautions fail to stir the soul with passion.  Poetry’s fresh images and concise, musical language has the voltage to strike that emotional chord supporting science and public policy by rousing consciousness, amplifying compassion.

Nature poetry is most powerful when it is not just about the creatures and phenomena of the natural world, but about our relationship with them.  Rivers, birds, trees or beaches—poetry deepens our connection, stimulates love for creation.  Just a few stanzas can establish a motivating ecological bond between the natural world and the human heart and mind.  Poets celebrate natural miracles, but also are bound to bear witness to ecological tragedies and to issue Jeremiah-like warnings of potential disaster.

In the spirit of ecology, we will read a few poems about the coast, but more about the larger landscape and its marvels because both science and poetry know that coastal waters are intimately bonded to the uplands from primal happenings like anadromous fish runs to cultural intrusions like nitrogen from fertilizers and sewage.  What takes place in the hills and valleys ultimately finds the shore and saltwater.  Behold poetry from woodland to wrack line and beyond, a journey of beauty and wonder at the confluence of science and art.

Knowing that a relationship with nature is also a species of spiritual quest, we offer our poems in the tenor of 19th century English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Margaret Gibson

Connecticut State Poet Laureate and author of 12 books of poems

Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut

David K. Leff

Poet, Lecturer & the 2016-17 New England Trail Artist-in-Residence

Former Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection


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