Summer 2023 • Vol. XLV No. 1 IntroductionJune 14, 2023 |

Introduction to Nature’s Nature

Joanna Klink’s poem “Processional” opens with a vivid provisional, perhaps also a prayer: “If there is a world, let me be in it.” But how are we to be in the world? Is our passive presence sufficient? If we are concerned, or alarmed, or in despair, or hopeful about the world, our being in the world must include our active presence — our language, engagement, deeds. If we are witness to the world, our witness means more than seeing the world; it means we must add our testimony to our seeing. And if we are poets, that testimony takes the form of our singing about the world. 

Klink’s line is the first line of the first poem in the first year’s iteration of “Nature’s Nature,” published in the May/June 2015 issue of the Kenyon Review. That portfolio offered our readers thirty-four new poems by twenty-one poets. I’d approached David Lynn, then editor of KR, with the idea of putting together a group of “nature” poems, and he was enthusiastic in his approval. Afterward he asked if I might consider doing it again. He and I agreed — what could be more important? 

“Nature’s Nature” has been an annual feature in KR, now with the blessing of KR’s new editor, Nicole Terez Dutton, and these past nine years have brought together 158 contributors, mostly poets but also a handful of prose writers and visual artists. The work has been just as various and dynamic as you’d hope — from urgent political poems to subtle personal lyrics, from translations and narratives to dramatic monologues and more. Each work has been an expression of environmental engagement and ecological aptitude. 

Writing poetry is both an individual calling and a community construction. Ecopoetry amplifies the community aspect. While an individual sense of things — grief, outrage, warning, appreciation, devotion — often underscores an ecopoem, it’s perhaps our sense of the collective circumstance, our shared present and the prospect of a shared future, that compels the genre more than most or all other lyric genres. 

This year I have hoped to widen the communal sense by inviting six of my favorite established poets to help in the curation of “Nature’s Nature.” I invited each of these six to identify and select work from an emerging poet, to offer a comment about that poet’s work, and to contribute new work of their own, all under the umbrella of ecopoetics. 

My introductory comments to “Nature’s Nature” have often discussed some of the individual poems in the feature, as well as some of my own thinking (and, I admit it, my distress) about the state of the environment. But this year I won’t say much about the individual emerging poets — Charlie Decker, Bernard Ferguson, Jennifer Elise Foerster, fahima ife, Jordan Nakamura, and Santiago Vizcaíno — since that’s better left to their sponsoring poets. I will point out the incredible diversity, range, representation, and varieties of articulation in this new work.

I’m grateful for the eager participation of Victoria Chang, Terrance Hayes, Joanna Klink, Joyelle McSweeney, Arthur Sze, and Brian Teare. Each has been generous and gracious, and their own work adds further serious notes to this project, from McSweeney’s essential and “sticky” necropoetics to Teare’s expansive ecology of seeing. Terrance Hayes investigates hunting and gathering — whether our food or our loves — while Victoria Chang’s poems grow out of her cultivation of Agnes Martin’s paintings. Joanna Klink maps like geographical strata the contours of interiority and otherness, while Arthur Sze contributes an epistolary nature poem (his first, he reports) as well as his translation of a lyric by Wang Jiaxin. 

This year’s “Nature’s Nature” is rich with devotion and depth and, to my eye, shimmers with the pleasures of both discovery and sponsorship. The news about the further deterioration of our environment — however you define that concept, in its particulars, in its singular being — is heartbreaking and alarming. The work of these poets and of us all is to talk about it, and sing about it, in its decadence as well as its germination, and perhaps to remain open for glimpses of hope. After all, as Victoria Chang writes, “The conundrum is there.” 

— DB

David Baker is the author or editor of many books of poetry and criticism. His latest collection of poems, Whale Fall, was published by W. W. Norton in July 2022. Baker taught at Kenyon 1983–84 and began a long association with The Kenyon Review then, including service for more than twenty-five years as poetry editor. He continues to curate the magazine’s annual environmental feature, “Nature’s Nature.” Baker is emeritus professor of English at Denison University, in Granville, Ohio, where he offers two classes each spring semester.

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