National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 18

Over the course of this project, I’ve been aware of the danger of appropriating and/or (mis)interpreting an experience different from my own. This is especially true today. As a white child growing up in western Connecticut, I was surrounded by other white children who came from families similar to my own. We tromped through the fields and woods, rode our bikes everywhere, swam in nearby lakes and ponds. That others were excluded from this experience simply never occurred to me. The media–TV, movies, books, newspaper–only confirmed my experience. 

Today’s featured author is Carolyn Finney, a black woman who grew  up in the white suburbs of New York City, had a childhood filled with similar activities, but experienced them very differently. Her parents were caretakers on an estate in Westchester County, the only black family for miles. In her book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, Finney explores “the linkages between representations of the ‘Great Outdoors’ and the ‘African American experience in the United States, in terms of attitudes, beliefs, and interactions pertaining to the environment.” She wants “to understand the relationship between African Americans and various processes that define and inform what we call ‘environment’ (whether as matters of discourse or aspects of the natural world).” Her book considers “the legacy of an environmental narrative that denies the complex history of various cultural groups whose access to and use of natural resources were mediated by policies and laws that limited their possibilities.” 

Like Lauret Savoy’s Trace, this book asks hard questions. Questions that deserve our thoughtful consideration. This found poem, created with words and phrases found in the Introduction and Epilogue to Black Faces, White Spaces, is my initial understanding of Finney’s work. I have tried to represent the truth and intent of Finney’s words. If this poem does not, the fault is mine.

Black faces
outside looking in:
exclusion from
“white wilderness.”
Socially constructed,
shapes reality,
informs identity,
ideas of wilderness.

Racism impacts participation.
Creates roadblocks,
constrains environmental interactions.

Shift cognitive maps.
Offer opportunity.
Draw outside the lines
of the Great Outdoors
to see how
resilience can emerge.
Engage the unlikely,
the unfamiliar
Attempt to grasp our future
with clear intention

and eyes wide open.

Previous Writing Wild posts:

Day 1: Dorothy Wordsworth
Day 2: Susan Fenimore Cooper
Day 3: Gene Stratton-Porter
Day 4: Mary Austin
Day 5: Vita Sackville-West
Day 6: Nan Shepherd
Day 7: Rachel Carson
Day 8: Mary Oliver
Day 9: Carolyn Merchant
Day 10: Annie Dillard
Day 11: Gretel Ehrlich
Day 12: Leslie Marmon Silko
Day 13: Diane Ackerman
Day 14: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Day 15: Lauret Savoy
Day 16: Rebecca Solnit
Day 17: Kathleen Jamie

11 thoughts on “National Poetry Month: Writing Wild, Day 18

  1. I appreciate your honesty about your life; however, you embrace and open your arms to all experiences. I love that you have found this amazing poem from “Racism impacts participation” to “Attempt to grasp our future with clear intention and eyes wide open.” Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are clear and honest about this issue & the policies that effected it, Catherine. There are organizations here in Colorado that work to help get young people of color into the mountains, whether camping or skiing. They often do not have that opportunity & I have read articles that few families travel to the National Parks, etc. I love that this is included in the book & you wrote such a powerful poem from it. one article – https://www.goco.org/blog/our-response-racial-injustice-and-commitment-equity

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Day 1: Dorothy WordsworthDay 2: Susan Fenimore CooperDay 3: Gene Stratton-PorterDay 4: Mary AustinDay 5: Vita Sackville-WestDay 6: Nan ShepherdDay 7: Rachel CarsonDay 8: Mary OliverDay 9: Carolyn MerchantDay 10: Annie DillardDay 11: Gretel EhrlichDay 12: Leslie Marmon SilkoDay 13: Diane AckermanDay 14: Robin Wall KimmererDay 15: Lauret SavoyDay 16: Rebecca SolnitDay 17: Kathleen JamieDay 18: Carolyn Finney […]

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