Hazel Avery on the Un/natural Poem



What does it mean to write a nature poem in 2022? What makes something "natural" or "unnatural"? Something Right Here: Un/natural Mix is edited by Hazel Avery, a Pittsburgh-based poet and author of number one earth (Metatron Press, 2018). Read on for her editor's note introducing Something Right Here and articulating her attitudes toward "nature" poems. And don't forget: On Wednesday, September 21, Hazel is hosting nine of the mix's contributors at a virtual launch reading-party to help us welcome Something Right Here into the world.


> Preorder Something Right Here: Un/natural Mix

> Register for the virtual launch


***


We are now, for better or for worse, creatures of screen and concrete.

—Tamiko Beyer, “To fail and to trust. Writing into queer::eco::poetics”


The poems describe moss, rivers, trees, dirt, caves, dogs, fields: elements of an environment steeped in a legacy of violence, forced labor, torture, and death. Are these not meditations on nature? We find poems set in urban streets. Can these not be landscape poems?

—Camille T. Dungy, in the introduction to Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry


Nature capital-N is usually imagined as something over there. When a forest burns we don’t think of the houses it could have built, when a house burns we don’t think of the forest it was built from. The house is right here and the forest is over there. There’s a joke here about seeing, trees, and forests.


Over there can also be pretty close to right here. A picture (not nature) of the moon (nature) rising reflected on the water (nature) on a beach (nature) outside of the city (not nature). So sometimes Here isn’t here but There is.


It’s a classic inside-out question. Who gets to be in the un/natural club? People aren’t animals, naturally, so people aren’t Nature, naturally. Being queer definitely “just isn’t natural,” so “““normal””” people aren’t Nature but queers aren’t Natural. Get it? There are so many iterations of this argument and they always end in violence against the unnatural and refusal of Nature.


Generally, Nature has been defined by mostly-white mostly-rich mostly-straight mostly-men. Nature has facilitated or excused unimaginable violence. To contend with climate crisis, to contend with genocide and racism and oppression, to contend with the natural and the unnatural, we have to begin by admitting that Nature is right here—or rather nature is. I like to imagine nature lowercase-n is the actual living world, existing alongside and in opposition to the white supremacist myth of Nature. Nature is in redlined neighborhoods next to factories and mills poisoning everyone around them. It is in American foreign policy decisions that do nothing but kill. It is in plastic trash exported to over-exploited countries and into the ocean. And, yes, Nature is in the moon and in each and every silly little poem about the moon.


Almost every poem is a Nature poem. Each one belongs to one or more lineages. Nature poems in the US, for instance, owe a lot to Walt Whitman, who was a racist piece of shit for whom poetry was a nationalistic project of defining White American identity through the Nature—the leaves and the grasses—of the North American continent. The Nature in these poems is willing and ready to excuse genocide and violence—after all, Whitman only sings for himself. Nature poems in other parts of the world have their own problematics as well, their own echoes of colonialism, capitalism, crisis.


I have hope, because there are so many lowercase-n nature poems too, slyly writing about the living world in ways that avoid, subvert, and openly challenge these centuries of violence in many forms. Lowercase-n nature exists in the background of all this, crafty and stubborn. Thankfully, needfully, powerfully, there are so many ways of writing nature. Furious ways, Revengeful ways, Earnest ways, Mournful ways, Joyful ways, Reverent ways, Oblique ways, and so many Accidental ways.


I chose these poems for the different critiques and celebrations of the natural. Some pointed and deliberate, others inadvertent and fortuitous—each unique. We meet food, animals, technology, trees, beaches, cities, cell phones, and stars—each with something to listen to.


Keep your ears open and your hearts hungry for justice.


–hazel avery 💐

pittsburgh, pennsylvania

summer 2022


Hazel Avery is a poet. You can find her work online and in her book, number one earth, out from Metatron Press. Abolish the police.


Read more: Hazel's poem "a love poem" from Season 4 of Peach.


<3