Celebration as Protest

In California the state fiscal crisis has resulted in the scheduled closure of seventy state parks (25% of the total number) by July of 2012. The majority of the parks scheduled for closure are in Northern California where the poet Katherine Hastings lives.

Hastings, who runs a well-respected reading series in Santa Rosa, CA, called WordTemple, and hosts a public radio program by the same name on NPR affiliate KRCB FM, is an avid hiker and park-goer, so when she heard the news about the impending park closures, her immediate response was to find some way to draw attention to the closures as a means of protest.

The result was an anthology of poems, What Redwoods KnowPoems from California’s State Parks, which protests the closures through a celebration by fourteen poets of state parks as the vital, historic and—still all-too rare for many urban dwellers—restorative presence of wildness in our lives.

To quote a now often-quoted passage from Hastings’ eloquent introduction:

“The idea of this book didn’t come about as a way to save our parks; I’m not unrealistic,” said Katherine in the introduction of her book. “But some action had to be taken so I put out a call to poets in Sonoma County to join me in hikes through several state parks and asked them and other poets up-and-down the state to submit poems inspired by the parks in their areas, whether they are scheduled for closure now or not.”

So far Hastings has scheduled readings from the anthology up and down the coast and heartland of California, including one in the capital (and my home city), Sacramento.

A while ago I wrote about Martha Ann Blackman’s decade long protest against the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. (It started for Blackman with the writing of a poem and ended with the plant’s closure.) Hastings is another poet who is doing her best to harness the power of the word for the common good.

To read more about the anthology and the thirteen poets in it (of which I am one), to hear the poets read from the collection, to order a copy, or to read more about the specific park closures, click on the links below.

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from “Breathing,” one of Hastings’ poems included in the collection, about (scheduled for closure) Jack London State Park:

Where braided shadows of redwoods drape

Nests of mice, voles. Breath comes more softly

Standing at the picket fence of graves—

London under the red rock, fresh ashes

Poured in a mound nearby. (We wondered if

That’s desecration or a human right.)…

(Hastings’ full-length collection, Cloud-Fire, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvill Press in the fall.)



(Scroll down to What Redwoods Know)


Filed under: Book Review, Prose, Susan Kelly-DeWitt