award-winning poet, freelance writer, and editor; her poetry and prose have appeared in American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Drunken Boat, Water-Stone Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review; a native of New Hampshire and graduate of Dartmouth College; holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College
an excerpt from "In Defense of Wonder"
In poetry’s earliest days, when poems were songs, there would have been little separation between one’s self and the natural world in which one lived. It was the source of joy, fear, sustenance, and, yes, awe and reverence. Perhaps our separation from the natural world—and our ignorance of it—is in part what fuels such a suspicion of the elemental, the earthy, and the avian in poetry. We are afraid of having moons and birds in poems because we are unable to see them outside the frame of the page and apart from the cultural baggage attached to them. So many of us rarely think about or notice actual birds, rarely take the time to absorb the actual moonlight, and as a result, we have little other frame of reference for them.
But, of course, birds are real. The moon is real. Anyone, anywhere, who takes the time to notice, knows them as singular and particular. Even if we don’t take notice as much as our ancestors did, nature is not diminished. Tides and storms, the patterns of seasons and migrations, the quality of the soil and the air—all of these continue to influence and are influenced by us; they remind us of the intricate web from which we cannot disentangle ourselves, try as we might. Also, some of us are still lucky enough to live in places where we are awakened by birdsong in the morning, where at night we can see the Milky Way spilled across the sky. These things are part of our daily human experiences. As such, these phenomena—like anything else—can take on particular meaning, both original and universal.
Such meaning depends on authenticity, which often depends on engagement. This is the case whether we are talking about authenticity between people and people or between people and nature. We must be attentive; we must give our senses over to the other. And, equally as difficult, the craft of the poem must convey or recreate the authenticity of this experience for the reader.
from “In Defense of Wonder” by Hannah Fries © 2016 Hannah Fries. Appearing online in Southern Humanities Review. Excerpt by permission of the author.