A week ago I went to “school” in one of my favorite places on earth, Zion National Park. I attended a poetry workshop put on by the Utah State Poetry Society and Zion Canyon Field Institute, (for whom I’m doing a lecture on Zion’s early transportation history on Aug. 4) centered on poetry inspired by nature. What a location for inspiration!
David Rothman, Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University, presented, challenging us to write an alliterative poem in which every line contained three words that alliterate as well as four hard, stressed consonant sounds, called Anglo-Saxon Strong-Stress Alliterative Verse.
Before we departed on a nature walk up the Grotto Trail, which connects Zion Lodge with the Grotto Picnic Area, Dr. Rothman challenged us as we walked to think of sets of three of four words in which directly alliterate, meaning, they begin with the same consonant sound(s). He taught us that to truly alliterate, the first syllable must match. For instance, “blend” and “brush” (words I use in my poem below) don’t truly alliterate because even though they both begin with “B,” the second consonant is not the same. In this way, “blend” and “bloom” fully alliterate because they begin with the same consonant pair. By the same token, words which begin with the same consonant with a vowel immediately after (serene, sanctuary) instead of a pair of consonants also truly alliterate.
Rothman said one of the challenges of poetry about nature is creating meaningful relationships between nature and humans, which is difficult because, as he explained, rocks are inanimate objects that don’t do things living things do. In my mind, the way to make the relationships meaningful is to give those rocks (and any other non-living thing) human qualities through the wonderful literary device of personification.
With folded piece of paper and pen in hand and Rothman’s challenge in my mind, I walked from the Lodge to the Grotto seeing the landscape I’ve visited hundreds of times since childhood in a completely different light. While I thought of alliterating words, I noticed its simple beauty more than I ever had before. For instance, on the surface, bare trees towering over a blanket of grass and rocks doesn’t seem like much, especially compared to the monoliths above it all, but when considered small pieces of Zion’s overall stunning beauty – its own little ecosystem – those seemingly minute building blocks become more significant.
In addition to seeing a very familiar landscape through a new lens, something Rothman said really resonated with me. He said something like, “We make poetry out of the quarrels within ourselves.” The poem I wrote as a result of the workshop was just that – it reflects a quarrel I’ve had with myself.
I’ve devoted a lot of time, especially during my graduate studies, to researching national parks transportation, particularly Zion and its shuttle system, which became my Master’s thesis. Before the shuttle began, I was extremely skeptical, thinking it would ruin the park, unnecessarily restricting park-goers’ freedom to move about as they please. It’s done just the opposite, of course, eliminating cars in the park’s most-visited area, Zion Canyon, and reducing vegetation degradation and noise pollution while improving the visitor experience.
But now there is a new challenge as the shuttle is regularly overcrowded as Zion approaches four million visitors per year this year, which just so happens to be the National Park Service’s Centennial Year. It’s a conundrum with no immediate easy answers and one park managers (not just in Zion) will wrestle with for the foreseeable future.
While this poem has no meter, rhythm or rhyming pattern, it was just as challenging, if not more challenging, to write as a poem with one or more of those qualities. As mentioned, it was a product of a new way (THE PERSPECTIVE) and old way (THE QUARREL) of seeing the world.
Calm Captivating (Zion) Canyon
A serene solidified sanctuary where
Sandstone towers seem like sentinels
Savoring the rays of the searing sun
Accentuating the red rock’s rusty colors
The lazy leaves, logs and lichens
Lurk in luminous layers, creating
Clear clumps and clusters clouding
The green grass growing in between
Budding blooms blend with the blandness
Of naked tree troves along the trail
Shale sheets like shingles show
Stress through streams on striking stone
Vehicles become vicious vermin
Directly disturbing divine delights
People pour in pretending politeness
Leaking litter and lamentable loudness
One might pity Piutes and pioneers
Whose first forays furnished hardship
But also solace, silence and serenity
Among the canyon’s majestic, monstrous monoliths
Today rangers roam resplendently
Teaching tourists to treat
The rare refuge with respect
Preserving pristine preciousness in perpetuity
I’d love to hear any feedback/criticism you have and hope you can be inspired by spectacular scenery just like I was.