photo collage of people reading poety
Members of the Wellesley College community recorded themselves reading the nature-inspired poem in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and National Poetry Month.

Wellesley Creates a Community-Style Poem to Virtually Celebrate Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary

April 22, 2020

“I don’t know how to write about the Earth
without praying for it.”

Excerpt from “Scientific Reasoning,” by Claire Cheek ’21

This poem, along with more than 30 others by members of the Wellesley College community, was to be included in a celebration during the month of April to mark both the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and National Poetry Month.

Organized by faculty, staff, and students from Wellesley’s English department, the Newhouse Center for the Humanities, and the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, in partnership with the nonprofit Mass Poetry, the celebration would have involved a form of outdoor art Mass Poetry pioneered called raining poetry. The organizers were going to paint the poems, all centered on the themes of earth or nature, on sidewalks around campus using a special paint made of a nontoxic, biodegradable formula that only appears when it rains.

“Early this spring, we put out a call to the community for poems about the earth, with plans for painting the poems on concrete all over campus,” said Eve Zimmerman, director of the Newhouse Center and professor of Japanese. “We were thrilled with the response: More than 30 beautifully crafted poems from students, faculty, and staff arrived in the Newhouse inbox.”

When these plans were unexpectedly canceled as the coronavirus became a global pandemic, the organizers, recognizing the increased need for community connection, devised a new one so that the Wellesley community could still come together to experience the power of poetry on Earth Day.

“Nature poetry provides a window and a mirror into the sensory and emotional relationship that all people have with the natural world,” said Suzanne Langridge, director of the Paulson Initiative. “This year, we are in a moment when people are truly taking notice of how important nature is for well-being and for connecting to something larger than ourselves, providing perspective in a moment of profound uncertainty.”

With a little help from the poets and their smartphones, the organizers created a community-style video poem composed of videos from some of the poets and selected lines from the works originally destined for campus sidewalks.

“The happy irony is that we’d planned on doing something surprising, but temporary; instead of ‘raining poetry’ we now have these lasting words and images, which I suspect we’ll keep going back to, even many springs from now,” said Dan Chiasson, Lorraine C. Wang Professor of English.

You can also join in Wellesley’s virtual celebration of Earth Day by reading all the poems submitted for raining poetry in this booklet, published by the Newhouse Center and designed by Lauren Cote, Newhouse Center coordinator.