After two years of imagining, researching and collaborating, English professor Dr. Deborah Bowen and her team of student researchers launched the Poetry & Ecology project at its kick-off event March 16. Held at Redeemer University College, the gathering saw students, staff, faculty, ecologists and poets consider together how poetry can help us better care for our local environment.
The project began in the spring of 2016, when a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada set Dr. Bowen’s plans in motion. The idea was to investigate the relationship between agency and hope in recent environmentally-focused poetry and active environmental organizations in southern Ontario.
While much of the findings will be shared in academic writing and presentations, a crucial aspect of the Poetry & Ecology Project was the creation of artistic, insightful leaflets for the public. Each meditates on caring for one of seven themes: Food, Water, Trees, Birds, Wild Creatures, Flowers and Pollinators, and Degraded Land.
Inside each leaflet are three poems by local poets and a list of local environmental organizations committed to safekeeping that area of nature. Coupled with fine photography and bundled into a mini series, the collection was available for the first time at the launch event. Nearly 60 guests attended the event, hearing from Dr. Bowen, student researchers Liane Miedema and Elise Arsenault, and poets John Terpstra from Hamilton, Adam Dickinson from Brock University in St. Catharines, and Anna Bowen from Guelph.
At the bottom-right corner of every leaflet, you’ll find a quote by poet and environmental scientist Madhur Anand, saying that “Poetry, like chlorophyll, is a catalyst for turning light into energy.”
“I’m wagering,” said Dr. Bowen, “that poetry can be a catalyst for turning light into energy. That’s what I and my student researchers are hoping for – that the poems will awaken the imagination of their readers in such a way that people care more, and they’re more interested and involved in environmental issues.”
“You can show somebody a graph of something and they might understand it,” added Liane Miedema, a Redeemer graduate with a degree in Environmental Science and Art who is now doing an MSc at U of Guelph under the supervision of Madhur Anand. “But you need them to care in order for them to make those difficult choices. And I think the storytelling that comes through poetry is one way of doing that.”
The audience experienced this exchange first-hand with readings from the event’s guest poets. Touching on topics from beetroots to bumblebees, from defunct landfills to contentious highways, the trio affirmed the power of the project’s vision with their verses and enthusiasm.