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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Earth Poetry

Air Date: Week of April 30, 2010

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Poet Janice Harrington writes of time, nature, and memory in her poem Shaking the Grass.

Transcript

YOUNG: Coming up—revisiting the American landscape of forty years ago, through the lens of Documerica—that’s just ahead on Living on Earth.

YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. April—wrote the poet—is the cruelest month, but it is also National Poetry Month. We asked poets to share work inspired by the natural world. Yes, we know April’s over but we still have more of these wonderful poems.

HARRINGTON: I’m Janice Harrington. And my interest in poetry began with passionate teachers. Passion is viral; it’s contagious. They loved poetry. I was exposed to some of the best, and I just grew up with it and kept that interest.


And poetry is also about paying attention to the world around you, seeing, using all your senses and I think that very much appeals to me. I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. And the Nebraska landscape is beautiful—these long, low rolling hills. And this poem is set in that space—that vastness of Nebraska when you’re feeling really small and insignificant. And it’s also thinking about what becomes of us, either as artists or as human beings, or our relationships even.

“Shaking the Grass”:

Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.

I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln. It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me. I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.

What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?

Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.

Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.

Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story: all is vanity.

Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes: O my beloved! O my beloved!

I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made is gone.

 

Links

Janice Harringont’s poem can be found in the book “Black Nature.”

 

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