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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

River of Words: Poetry in Motion

Air Date: Week of

In an annual contest sponsored by the International Rivers Network in Berkeley, California, school children were asked to submit poems and posters with their impressions about rivers. The young winners all picked up their awards in Washington, D.C. recently where producer Katie Davis asked them to discuss their artistic interpretations.


CURWOOD: We teach our children to memorize their telephone number, the street they live on, maybe even their e-mail address. But how many of them know their ecological address? What's the name of the nearest river or creek? And where does the rainfall go? What's the local watershed? These places we can't name as easily. The International Rivers Network asks students from kindergarten to grade 12 to draw a picture or write a poem about the body of water nearest them. In this way they would learn the nature of their neighborhood. The result was a veritable flood of images for the River of Words Poetry and Poster Contest. Producer Katie Davis caught up with 3 of the contest winners on the banks of the Anacostia. That's an urban river hemmed in by busy rail yards in Washington, DC.

(A train rolls by and blares its horns)

DAVIS: Begin this way. Begin with a cloud, where all rivers begin. A truth so simple it took the ear of a 6-year-old boy to capture it in a poem.

SANSGOULD: My name is Nicholas Jason Sansgould, also known as Nicholas Julian Sansgould, they forgot the J, and I'm from San Francisco and my poem is called "Sad Sun." Here it goes: Oh sun, oh sun, oh sun, how does it feel to be blocked by the dark, dark clouds? Oh child, it doesn't really feel bad at all. Not at all, not at all, not at all. A short one, too. I had to do it 2 times. OK. Oh sun, oh sun, oh sun, how does it feel to be blocked by the dark, dark clouds? Oh child, it doesn't really feel bad at all. Not at all, not at all, not at all.

DAVIS: How did that pop into your mind?

SANSGOULD: Well, I was kind of like thinking what it would be like, no sun is a very powerful force. I was like asking, you know, what it would feel like. And I just gave it my opinion, I didn't know. It's been doing this since the dawn of time.

DAVIS: So you think the sun, it doesn't get really upset of a big dark cloud goes by.


DAVIS: Why not?

SANSGOULD: Because it's been doing it, you know, in the prehistoric age, you know what I mean? Up, down, up, down, rain. You know, it's like that.

DAVIS: And it is like that. Up, down, up, down. The rhythm of life, the rhythm of water. Rain falls, then settles on a leaf or slithers under a rock. And then maybe the water goes deeper and stays underground, flowing along under cement and asphalt, but
always moving.

(Music up and under)

DAVIS: Remember this: a river can start with a leaden cloud, and then just one drop. And then the drop slouches down a corn stalk, lurches left into a rivulet and then right, searching out its watershed, its passage to the ocean. All this twisting and turning, these contortions of water, caught the eye of teenager Maria Koorsguard in New Jersey. Maria Koorsguard stopped to let the river run through her heart and then spill onto her canvas. Her drawing, titled, "Sun, Water, Life, Earth," is etched with bold blue swirls roiling against the banks of a bayou, dense and searing, like the starry night of a Van Gogh.

COORSGUARD: To me, a river is just a way of life, kind of sometimes it's rough and sometimes it's easygoing, and sometimes it's in between. I had to grow up by myself since I was 15, and I haven't really had a parent figure or anything like that. So all... all...I do have a lot of anger and the anger that I have gets put into my pictures, and all the emotion. So I see a river, every time I see it, it doesn't even have to be the current of a river. I mean if it's polluted it's still endangered and it still hurts and you know, it's something that can be done. Like when you're angry, there's someone always to talk to or some way that you can be helped or some way that you can, your emotions can be let out. And with a river, when it's polluted, I mean, if there's nobody there to help it then it's always going to be hurt. And it's really a sad thing, to be hurt.

(Music up and under)

DAVIS: Return to that one drop of water. Watch it land in the red ooze along the banks of a deep New Mexico river. Sit while the ooze turns to paste and then to mud. Mud that inspired a prayer of sorts from this high school poet who lives in rural New Mexico.

TIBBIDEAUX: My name's Nicole Tibbideaux and I'm from Taos, New Mexico. And this poem, the water that is mentioned in this is probably the Rio Grande, which is the river in Pilar where I grew up. So. The mud shall cover our sins, and the water shall wash us free. And the brush shall cleanse our skin and the wind shall weave our hair. And the sun shall bless our face. The sky shall clothe us in blue.

DAVIS: It's almost like a chant or something that would be done in a ceremony.

TIBBIDEAUX: Yeah. I think it's like our way of having hope for the future, because it's in the future tense, you know it's like this will happen, you know. It's like people will some day be connected with nature again, and really understand it.

DAVIS: Why do you think you are?

TIBBIDEAUX: Because I grew up in a very small village that -- I didn't have a TV or anything like that, and I spent a lot of time outside and just hiking and -- I don't know, I really feel like nature is such a part of me, it's -- I don't know. It's just always been there. Maybe if people spent time out in nature more often, they could become silent with it and understand it. You just have to like settle down and feel it. Feel the peacefulness, you know?

DAVIS: And so, through words and images a young person can find his or her place in nature. A sort of living internal map. And as Nicole Tibbideaux suggests, it is a place we
can all find, if we can just be silent for a while. For Living on Earth, this is Katie Davis.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The River of Words Poetry and Poster Contest, sponsored by the International Rivers Network in Berkeley, California, is preparing now for next year's contest.



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