The Alliteration of Zion: Poetry Inspired by Nature

Zion Lodge's "Parkitecture," designed to blend with the natural environment, made a great school for a day to learn more about the art of crafting poetry
Zion Lodge’s “Parkitecture,” designed to blend with the natural environment, made a great school for a day to learn more about the art of crafting poetry

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.

THE CHALLENGE

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.

Zion National Park's Grotto Trail in March
Inspiring nature walk along the Grotto Trail – the impetus of a list of groups of alliterating words

THE PERSONIFICATION

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.

THE PERSPECTIVE

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.

Luminous logs on Zion National Park's Grotto Trail in March
Luminous logs with grass growing in between – small building blocks of Zion’s stunning beauty

THE QUARREL

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.

The red road that brings vehicles to Zion Canyon and the monoliths standing like sentinels above it
The red road that brings vehicles to Zion Canyon and the monoliths standing like sentinels above it

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.

THE POEM

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.

Zion inspires visitors with its beauty anytime of year - even when the trees are bare
Zion inspires visitors with its beauty anytime of year – even when the trees are bare

One thought on “The Alliteration of Zion: Poetry Inspired by Nature

  1. Wow, thanks for a wonder-full description of our Poetry in the Park this year. I love your enthusiasm for poetry and the involvement of your students. Thanks for participating and bringing your talented students along. Would love to have you join Utah State Poetry Society and help us further our goals. See http://utahpoets.com or http://utahpoetry.blogspot.com for more info and links to more opportunities.

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