Review by Jo Freehand: Here: Poems for the Planet, Elizabeth J. Coleman, editor, foreword by The Dalai Lama

More Than a Love Letter,
More Than an S.O.S


My feet are wet and sandy. I’m sitting next to a jetty, a now multi-functional jetty book-shelf and side-table. It’s understandable that this wanted to be written here, long-hand on a yellow legal pad, rather than at home on my desktop. Here: Poems for the Planetis perfectly suited for reading outside. Here, this particular spot between Washington and Jersey Ave in Spring Lake is where I’ve read it the most. Here, this particular book,is what I’ve read the most on a number of day-trips to the Jersey shore after a few hours of cycling. Not only is it perfectly suited for reading outdoors, it’s great for reading out loud.

During an especially windy hood-and-blanket day an American Herring Gull hung out for a pop-up poetry reading. It was a read-whatever-poem-I-open-to kind of reading. Refreshments weren’t served, but she stayed anyhow. The reading began with “The Fish” by Mary Oliver. Seriously, out of the one-hundred and twenty-eight poems in this anthology, I opened to “The Fish.” Here’s an excerpt:

          I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; […]

The reading ended with a selection from the fourth and penultimate “Voices of Young People” section of poems, a section written by children and teens. This is the opening of Griffon Bannon’s “How to Be a Hawk”:

  Feel the wind on your face.
Soar across the sky
with your huge wing span,

Yes, really. At a time like this, at a time when there are protests to attend, calls to representatives to be made, opinion pieces to write, I’m sitting here writing about poems about wind and sky and wing span and fish and hawks and the sea. I’m writing about bike-riding and sitting at the beach reading poetry to birds. Yes, even as the daily deluge of news grows more and more heated, more and more torrential. Yes, even as the world as we know it or thought we knew it, feels like a slow-motion implosion that’s happening way too fast to stop. Yes, I’m writing about poems about Earth, especially at a time like this. Because, well, what is more important than water and air and the health of our planet, which is, of course, the health of all living beings? Better said by Craig Santos Perez in “understory”:

  how will

open air
pesticide drift

affect our
unborn daughter

whose nerve
endings are

just beginning
to root? -

 Don’t worry there is activism to be had. As the Dalai Lama wrote in the foreword of this eco-poetry anthology:

  We human beings are the only species with the power to destroy the earth […] if we have the capacity to
destroy the earth, so, too, we have the capacity to protect it.

The thing is, it’s all so overwhelming, isn’t it? What’s the point? It’s easy to feel hopeless. In “Invitation,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil offers:


          […] If you still want to look up, I hope you see
the dark sky as oceanic, boundless, limitless – like all
the shades of blue revealed in a glacier. Let’s listen
how this planet hums with so much wing, fur, and fin.

 The structure of Here: Poems for the Planettells me that editor (as well as poet and lawyer) Elizabeth J. Coleman clearly wants us to “look up.” She doesn’t want to leave us feeling despondent. Coleman wants us to be inspired. It’s evident throughout Here.It’s evident in that Coleman sought out the Dalai Lama to write a foreword. It’s evident in the arc of the five sections of poetry from beauty to mourning to the hope of youth to inspiration to act. And then Coleman does something unique and creative for an anthology of poetry; she gives us an easily do-able “Guide to Activism by the Union of Concerned Scientists,” to whom she is donating her book royalties. The guide is as accessible and inspiring as the global and contemporary voices that are brought together in Here. It’s divided into four sections that include, among other things, instruction on: effective letter writing to policy makers, setting up meetings with your legislator, using purchasing power, connecting with media, and “How to Host a Public Education Event.”

This “Guide to Activism” is as accessible and inspiring as the poetry of the many global and contemporary voices brought together in this anthology. Some of those poets are: Wendell Berry Kwame Dawes, Mark Doty, Sasha Dugdale, Brenda Hillman, Carolyn Kizer, Sergio Holas, Tracy K. Smith, and Kirmen Uribe. It feels right to conclude with a taste of “On a Saturday in the Anthropocene,” by editor Elizabeth J. Coleman:

At my post office, endangered too,
I avoid the self-service kiosks, wait in line

for a human. A clerk waves me over
with her smile, asks where I’ve been.

She tells me about a cruise she’s taken


Now I’m smiling too. What’s your name?

Here: Poems for the Planetis a love letter, and it’s more than a love letter. Here: Poems for the Planet is an S.O.S., and it’s more than an S.O.S. Here is about connection and relationship. It’s about our relationship with others. It’s about our relationship to the world, and Elizabeth J. Coleman knows that relationships, by nature, require attention.

 Fun (and impressive) Fact:Copper Canyon Press, publisher of Here: Poems for the Planet, raised funds to give a copy to every member of Congress.