Dr. Omed – Yeah, the key is knowing when it’s helpful to be specific – and how specific. If I am writing a poem about a toad, I’m probably not going to say “an American toad” – unless there happens to be a Fowler’s toad in the second stanza. With oaks, I might be more inclined to give specifics: a scrub oak is obviously very different in shape and habits from a white oak, which is very different from a rock oak. But it depends on the need of the poem. I am interested in trying to figure out how to write more poems in which the species does matter. Generally they are not poems in which, for example, my own maunderings are foregrounded.

And now, the tamarack.

Kate – See, this is what I love about blogging. I write a post on a topic I think I know a reasonable amount about, and right away, here comes someone with a truly informed opinion! Thanks. You studied with Simic? Wow.

He does put a lot of specifics of one sort or another into his poems; I agree. The only thing I personally object to is that he got himself into kind of a rut for quite a few books, but lately he seems to be getting out of it again. Dont get me wrong – he’s written a lot of poems I would take with me onto the proverbial desert island. I can’t tell you have many times I’ve read Dismantling the Silence. Anyway, very interesting to hear about his teaching style. I hope you’ll blog about this sometime.

two chambers in the same honeycomb
Good point. The thing is, it’s hard for me to relate to what exactly Simic is criticizing, because I don’t read poets I don’t like. I suppose he has had to, over the years, in various capacities (teacher, contest judge, editor).

if I repeat the names of every ash and larch and larkspur on my road without telling any story, without giving them any place and context and feeling on the page, even I stop feeling the wonder of them.
Yes, that is a danger. You know, when I was a kid, growing up in a family of naturalists, I fiercely resisted learning the names of birds, wildflowers and whatnot. My feeling was that we were fooling ourselves if we thought we learned anything that way, and besides, the name we happen to give somethng isn’t likely to be what it would call itself! Now I’m more of a realist, I guess. Learning the common names of things is a prerequisite for talking/writing about them, no more or less. When the names get in the way of knowledge, let them go.

The only way I know to get people to feel it, when they don’t already, is to make them feel how human it is.
I like thinking of non-humans as persons. I think the anthropomorphic approach is profoundly respectful; I part company with scientists in that regard. When writing about nature, I always want to find a middle ground between sentimentalizing and objectifying. And yes, of course – to reach beyond the choir.

Welcome to WordPress, by the way! I enjoyed reading your first three posts at your new home.