Place-Based Poetry: Some Examples

Poetry of the sort that appears here is one kind of writing that can come out of an ecocomposition classroom.

"How, with this rage, shall beauty hold a plea?"

-Shakespeare  Sonnet #65 


--By Corey Lee Lewis

August covers the Flint Hills

like a steaming blanket

            brought straight from a sweat lodge,


thick currents of air

            wrap themselves around

            me, filling this valley

and my lungs with their warmth

the heat seems

            to come from the inside

            or from the Earth itself

and down there, underneath,

the roots grow



The sun is baking

            my back like brown clay

as I stand bent

            an old willow

stooping over a cottonwood frame

knuckles rubbed raw from my work

            the stretching and scraping of this hide,

sweat beads and rolls


salting my lips

and blazing trails

            through the dust

on my face

            my chest

                        my work.


The flint I knap

cuts fingers and flesh, leaving

chirt and blood in the dirt

where I kneel.


And Solo, still just a pup,

lies in the shade

            already long and lean

I bring her scraps of deer meat

and let her lick the

            dried blood

                        from my fingers,

her rough tongue

scouring and cleaning

the cuts

and blisters, with

as much care

as any mother

            ever knew.


I go to the stream

to drink and wash,

and if I stop

            and stand still,

long enough,

my toes will grow

and lengthen,

            pushing downward

            cracking soil and moist earth,

until I have roots,

thick and solid

            roots, joining me

to this place.



Illinois, Illinois 

    --By Daniel Duffy

Illinois, Illinois,

What of your grain elevators?

Your big red farmhouses, 

your slow walks to work?

Crunching over cattle feed,

rocks scraping together

under feet over railroad tracks,

writing graffiti with trailer park girls

instead of delivering papers,

then a call rom Mrs. Brackmeyer:


"Where are my obituaries?"


What of your Bud Light-drinking,

smoke inhaling, bologna-

eating love children,

born between factory workers 

then prancing around in red robes

for choirs of old ninnies and

stuffed-suit Chamber of Commerce folks,

valedictorians speaking in 

monotone about "life goals"

like two kids and a minivan,

me a stoned bastard singing

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery!'

while proud parents sit

and sip sweat dripping

from their guilty brows of

yes-we are Catholic-but-yes-





What of the foundation 

of the new girl's parents' house,

where we laid horny on concrete

in sawdust under the stars and

humped til I came in my jeans

then smoked opium and played

bad cover songs for throngs of

anxious children confused

eating Chewey Chips Ahoy and

later popping pimples

under fluorescent lights?


What of it? 


    --By Ginny Rolla  

I waited tables last summer 

 in the dry Los Angeles heat. 

 The last time I saw him, he sat at a small table

just wiped clean of crumbs and drippings.


 He patiently smiled, 

rhythmically drawing smog into his lungs, exhaling.

His friends devoured my words,

lips and teeth agape, awestruck that

(nine months a year) 

I make my home in a beautiful, 

decrepit town 

enveloped in redwoods and the sea.


He died on a pilgrimage to this, his 

 holy land 

of natural wonders, tranquil souls, and love

where every day, my shoulders heavy with words,

I walk briskly down broken streets 

as the sour, pungent smell of ganj

wafts from the windows of 

houses, wet with rain.

Tonight I watched the sunset

make pavement from the skies

(crisp white outlines filled, spilling over with blood,

orange and yellow arms

embracing the sky)

from behind a rickety desk and 


what he would have done

had he made it here.


I may never know, because 

unlike him, I choose to be

bound by 

transparent, blue-lined 

paper walls.

L.A. Skyline   

    --By Ginny Rolla

 Dull gray and reflecting white light,

you are not what others see: 

 the gaping, hungry jaws of an insatiable beast,

jagged teeth, cracked and sharpened on the

bones of the souls you’ve devoured.

You are a worn, sturdy comb,

uneven, disfigured, but always

held dear in my shirt pocket

because even though the pain you inflict

echoes through my spine;

aches from my toes, my fingertips, my lips,

you always know how to smooth the tangles in my 

wild, wind-tossed hair. 

The Lay of Taranis

    --By Chris Hall

The gray sky rumbles and cracks in the throes of a storm,

The first really big one this season.

It’s rained of course; there’s always rain,

But this is more than rain.

The wind whips through the trees,

Sets the high branches howling with the sheer force of it,

And the thunder growls in the sky above, warning of the winter to come.


The wind shakes the roof of my house,

 pelted audibly by rain,

The hammering downpour is too much for these walls

to contain.

 I’m summoned into the midst of it.

In the front yard: broken boards of weathered fence.

On the street: the wind rages.

Currents twist my hair,

And I walk hard against the wind,

Turn up the trail through dark and bending trees, the wind now at my back.


Even in the woods the storm grips the land with encircling strength.

The storm has hammered out the lights of the houses on the street below.

Those homes seem cold now, their lights burned out like ancient stars.

But the air in the forest is warm; the chill in the air has melted in the downpour,

and the rain drives on--

Pounds out a rhythm on the ground below, and in the branches above,

Pelting down a song.