Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California is a new anthology co-edited by Ruth Nolan and Lucille Lang Day. Nolan grew up in the Mojave Desert and now lives in Palm Desert, where she is professor of English and creative writing at College of the Desert. Lang Day, founder and director of Scarlet Tanager Books, is the award-winning author of 10 poetry collections, two children’s books, and a memoir.
Can you talk a bit about the genesis of Fire and Rain? There are already quite a few poetry anthologies out there with an environmental focus. What makes yours necessary?
Nolan: Fire and Rain speaks in a wide range of poetic sensibilities that both distinguish and synthesize the many diverse ecologies of California. Our anthology offers an eco-tone of voices, in the form of poetry that emanates from and across every ridge and valley, desert and water-body, rare micro-zone and sweeping vistas and urban ecologies of our Golden State.
How did you choose the poets themselves?
Nolan: There is an exciting meld of poetic voices that are established and recognizable along with newer and emerging California poets’ works. The resulting weave is exotic and exciting.
Lang Day: After reading anthologies of ecopoetry organized alphabetically by author, historically by the authors’ years of birth, or around poetic themes, in 2011 I got the idea to organize an ecopoetry anthology by habitat to bring the biology to the fore and thereby give readers a sense of the diversity of ecosystems and the many ways they can be compromised.
Which makes Fire and Rain quite different from others on the same topic.
Lang Day: I don’t know of any other ecopoetry anthology focused this way on biology. This anthology is important because we are in the midst of a worldwide environmental crisis and poetry offers one more medium for learning about and thinking about the various problems.
It’s a substantial collection — well over 400 pages. How did you decide what to put in and what to leave out?
Nolan: Through a rigorous selection process, all entries were scored and discussed by both editors. We wanted to represent each of the major eco-regions of California and have each as equally weighted in the collection as possible.
Lang Day: We wanted to represent all of California’s major ecological zones and iconic species, such as redwood trees and sea lions, with high quality poetry from both well-known and unfamiliar poets. In addition, we wanted to show the beauty and significance of intact ecosystems and the many ways they can be damaged by human activities, in order to inspire readers to think about conservation and environmental preservation.
Any other goals?
Lang Day: We wanted to select poems that show how nature can be dangerous [think fire, earthquakes, and storms] and how it can evoke many emotional responses ranging from joy and laughter to sorrow and fear.
What are the biggest surprises readers will find in the anthology?
Lang Day: They will be surprised by the variety of California ecosystems and how much biology can be communicated through poetry. If they are regular readers of poetry, they will likely be surprised by how many stunning voices they are hearing for the first time. If they do not usually read poetry, they will be surprised by how accessible these poems are.
Nolan: Fire and Rain surprises readers by representing the unity and diversity in this “poetry of geographies” that rings in both familiar and lesser known or recognized eco-tones from and across every corner of the Golden State.