Followup: Islands & Rivers: Poetry and the Art of the Possible in the Age of Climate Change

On May 16th and 17th, we were honored to help support and participate in a stellar event entitled Islands & Rivers: Poetry and the Art of the Possible in the Age of Climate Change, presented by Casa de las Americas at LaGuardia Community College, our longterm partner Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, and the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center. The aim of the series, which is to bring an environmental justice framework to creative, humanistic practices, and to conversely bring creative, humanistic practices to bear on environmental justice work, will continue in October of 2023 with more in-depth investigations of the theme including a premiere NYC showing of Engaging the Senses Foundation’s The Story of Everything by acclaimed poet, storyteller, and emeritus poet laureate of Hawai‘i, Kealoha.

Prior to the first event, ETSF had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Waldman in the Lost & Found offices for a new film we are working on about significant contemporary poets.

Anne Waldman is an internationally recognized and acclaimed poet who has has “been an active member of the ‘Outrider’ experimental poetry community, a culture she has helped create and nurture for over four decades as writer, editor, teacher, performer, magpie scholar, infra-structure curator, and cultural/political activist. Her poetry is recognized in the lineage of Whitman and Ginsberg, and in the Beat, New York School, and Black Mountain trajectories of the New American Poetry.” Our interview was an opportunity to explore Anne’s incredible contributions to the poetry of the last forty years. Over our nearly two-hour filmed conversation, Anne exemplified her  rich historical commitment to both language and to Tibetan Buddhism by remaining vulnerable, engaged, flexible, and open, resulting in many moments of wit and inspiration and enlightenment that we can’t wait to share with you once Poetry is Not a Luxury is completed in late 2024! 

Islands & Rivers began at the CUNY Graduate Center with a night of environmental poetry grounded in water-based and island-born knowledgeways integral to our understanding and implementation of climate adaptation and just transition writ large.

First, Anne Waldman  and editors Iris CushingMary Catherine Kinniburgh and Jason Weiss  presented  a celebration of two recent Lost & Found Elsewhere titles: The Catalog of Diane di Prima’s Occult Library  and Mary Norbert Korte’s Jumping into the American River: New and Selected Poems . Di Prima (1934-2020) and Korte (1934-2022) were formative and formidable poet-activists, whose farseeing work powerfully exemplified the event’s topics.

The presentation and discussion was followed by a  reading entitled Poetry Archipelagoes: Islands, Climate Change, and the Poetic Imagination with Mariposa Fernandez, Patricia Spears Jones, Kealoha, Rosamond S. King, and Emily Lee Luan.

Each of the beautiful readings was clearly appreciated by the standing-room only audience, after which ETSF had the opportunity to conduct a follow-up filmed interview with poet, writer, and educator Patricia Spears Jones, who we had had the pleasure of filming early in the process of creating our current film-in-production.

Programming continued the following day at LaGuardia Community College with a poetry/storytelling/spoken word workshop for LaGuardia students wishing to give voice and form to their own environmental autobiographies, taught by Kealoha. The filmed workshop showed Kealoha working with the students to build a list of words and phrases based on the five senses and centered on place, in this case New York City. The opportunity to see a talented teacher and students eager to find their unique voices and inner and outer locations working together to create new poems was a great treat!

After a delicious lunch provided to the attendees by La Morada restaurant, Mariposa Fernandez presented  FIYAH Water Fragmentos & Garabatos: Writings in Warming Waters & Creating Change, which investigated the question “what does creating the art of the possible look like when confronted by day-to-day survival? ” Mariposa has been examining this question and more through a series of poems and artwork that began when Hurricane Sandy slammed New York City and culminates with poems inspired by Hurricane Maria that impacted more than 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico and resulted in 4,645 deaths and mass displacement.

This was followed by  an open-mic poetry reading featuring new student work and hosted by Kealoha; the showing of a brief excerpt from The Story of Everything  that introduced the attendees to the topics of the film;and a musical performance by a group of feminist educators and cantadoras who open spaces for the music, culture, and traditions of the Caribbean region of Colombia to flourish in New York City. 

We are eager to share the entirety of our award-winning The Story of Everything with NYC audiences on October 20th, along with the accompanying presentations that our partners at CUNY will unveil as we all delve into questions surrounding our imperiled world and the ongoing possibilities of art and poetry to help us stay awake and hopeful in the face of often frightening climate change.