MARQUETTE - Anyone with an inner Henry David Thoreau clamoring to be released into the local literary world should consider entering Save the Wild U.P.'s new poetry contest, Putting the Wild Into Words.
SWUP seeks submissions of nature-related poems, written in the spirit of wilderness or inspired by personal connections with Upper Michigan's unique landscape. The contest, free and open to Upper Peninsula residents, runs through March 15.
Entrants may submit their works online (one entry per person) at savethewildup.submittable.com.
Maybe nothing is more inspiring to a wilderness lover with a literary bent than the northern lights, above. (Photo courtesy of Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo)
The Yellow Dog Plains can be a source of inspiration to a budding poet. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Heideman)
U.P. poet laureate Russell Thorburn will judge the competition. In April, National Poetry Month, Thorburn will join the winners for two special poetry readings in Munising and Marquette. Poets awarded first, second and third prizes each will receive gift certificates from U.P. businesses that support Save the Wild U.P.'s grassroots environmental work. The poems also will be featured on SWUP's website.
In 2013, Thorburn was chosen poet laureate by literary-minded experts from the U.P. Thorburn is the author of five poetry books, including "Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged" (Marick Press) and "Approximate Desire" (New Issues Poetry).
Thorburn has a varied background, which he described in, not surprisingly, an eloquent manner.
"I come from the Mojave Desert, where its desolate scrub brush often erupts into the occasional beauty of a cactus flower," Thorburn said. "I come from Woodward Avenue, downstate, riding the morning bus towards the 'City of Pigeons.' I come from the orchard behind our balcony, where we see foxes, coyotes, deer and weasels stroll casually through the woods in south Marquette."
What does Thorburn seek in a poem?
"I want that wildness in imagery Dylan Thomas forged from watching westerns at a Welsh cinema or borrowed from adventure stories, words wrought from 'blackbirds and the sun of October,'" Thorburn said.
As poet laureate, Thorburn incorporates nature into his poems, saying he has begun a series of poems with Walt Whitman and John Lennon wading into icy Lake Superior.
Thorburn also shared a few lines of his work: "To the cold stones and sky and these crows who don't know they're only shadows against the snow departing, the voices of all those who sing from a lost wilderness, snow day after snow day, 'in lairs and asylums of the tremendous shout.'"
Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president, said the group wanted to highlight the "flowering literary culture" of the U.P., which has a diverse ecosystem.
"Each writer magnifies their own particular experience, their own place, one stanza at a time," Heideman said.
U.P. nature and wilderness are the focus of the competition, she said.
"Whenever I read a poem about Upper Michigan, I always feel like I'm tracking an animal, looking for details, clues that tell me where it went, or where I am on the map," Heideman said.
Some people, Heideman pointed, think of nature with a "capital N" or a particular destination such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or Tahquamenon Falls State Park. However, she said nature is also a coyote chasing a rabbit through the yard, a snowy sidewalk or whatever draws attention back to the living world.
"It might seen mundane," Heideman said, "but the American poet Mary Oliver has been writing beautiful poems about taking walks with her dog, and one special pond near her home, for decades."
Heideman said it's too easy to think of nature as a scenic campground and overlook serious environmental challenges.
"Poets can't help responding to the power of the North American landscape," she said. "We fear wild places, we yearn for them, we retreat to them. We identify our souls with wilderness, even as our wild places are being destroyed."
Winning poets will be contacted in mid-March and invited to participate in two "Putting the Wild into Words" poetry readings with Thorburn.
The first will be at 6 p.m. April 3 at Falling Rock Cafe, 104 E. Munising Ave., Munising. The second will be at 7 p.m. April 30 in the Community Room at the Peter White Public Library, 217 N. Front St., Marquette.
Heideman said, "Save the Wild U.P. believes everyone should focus on this place we know and love."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.