AIRIE honors National Poetry Month

Arts / Article

By Anne McCrary Sullivan, AIRIE 

My good people, I guarantee you monster weather events— gargantuan winds of epic proportions— more authentic than anything you’d ever see at Epcot Center. Come aboard the Wilma Tram at Flamingo: You’ll live the hurricane! —from “Step Right Up,” Karla Merrifield

April is National Poetry Month, and all April long poems bloom on banners that hang at every visitor center and on every trail in Everglades National Park.  Some of the poems are playful and/or ironic, some serious, some inquisitive.  All are by Poetry Fellows of the Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) program and are the result of extended engagements with the Everglades.

Nowhere have I seen as radiant a light as that reflecting off tawny sawgrass where that master of illumination, great white heron, stands in the niche for lights. —from “Existence Is Light,” Diana Woodcock

The first occurrence of this blooming was in 2011 when the AIRIE program joined the Knight Foundation supported O’Miami project of placing poems in unexpected places all over Dade County.  The poetry banner project has since taken on a life of its own and with new support from the Knight Foundation thrives.  This year, poetry banners went up on World Poetry Day, May 21, and stayed in place through April for even larger numbers of visitors to view.

Let me be honest, some of these animals here in the Everglades— make the saddest music ever heard.  Enya would stoop and say, ‘hey, too sorrowful.’  The Irish know these things. —from “Music,” Mary Kate Azcuy

It is with a personal and particular joy that I have witnessed the increasing dynamic presence of poetry in the Park.  In January of 2003, I became the second poet to enjoy the privilege of an AIRIE residency.  (The first AIRIE poet in residence was Roger Mitchell of upstate New York.)  Upon arrival at my quarters on Pine Island, I had no idea how deeply the experience I was about to have would impact my life and my work; no idea that it would re-orient me in relation to dominant images and patterns of attention or that it would lead me to a new methodology.  It did.

In the intervening years, I have returned to the Everglades many times, sometimes for extended periods, camping, volunteering, writing, adventuring.  I have written two books out of my Everglades experience and am working on two more.  I have become actively involved in AIRIE, Inc, the supporting and guiding body for administration of the program by the Park, and I now have multiple ways of contributing to the growing presence of poetry in the park.

This year, I made three visits to the Park during the time the poetry banners were in place.  Although I know where the banners are positioned and am familiar with the poems, each time I encounter poems in a wild place, each time I pause and linger with words that are closely associated with the place in which I stand, I find new ways of seeing, feeling, understanding.  My already large experience of the Everglades grows larger.

I hope that others will begin to look forward to poetry in the Everglades each April, that they will put it on the calendar, make it a point to go in search of wildlife and wild poems, proliferating together on the trails of our wild Everglades.

From a wide domesticated expanse— neatly tame and furrowed rows, tomatoes, beans, obedient fields, this remnant of wildness rises. Cross over a boundary and there you are in some other dimension of the self— a lush unfettered flourishing. —from “Wilderness,”  Anne McCrary Sullivan