Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.
In Logan Cemetery a granite bench marks the grave of May Swenson, a native Utahn and eminent poet. She was born in Logan in 1913 and attended Utah State University where she published her first poem. She moved east in 1936, and eventually, she became one of America’s most inventive and recognized poets, She won many awards including Guggenheim and Rockefeller grants, the Yale Bollingen Prize, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Utah State University conferred an honorary doctorate on Swenson in 1987. Despite her many achievements and her years living away from Utah, Swenson never forgot her Mormon heritage or her identity as a Westerner.
Nature played a prominent role in Swenson’s work. In fact, she published a collection of poetry called Nature: Poems Old and New which is brimming with imagery that evokes the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
Here’s an example: a poem called April Light read by Paul Crumbley, a professor of English at Utah State University who specializes in Swenson’s work.
Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.
Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.
Another of Swenson’s poems describes a well-known natural feature in Utah.
Listen to this excerpt of Above Bear Lake:
A breeze, and the filtered light makes shine
A million bristling quills of spruce and fir
Downslope, where slashes of sky and lake
Hang blue—windows of intense stain. We take
The rim trail, crushing bloom of sage,
Sniffing resinous wind, our boots in the wild,
Small, everycolored Rocky Mountain flowers.
Suddenly, a steep drop-off: below we see the whole,
the whale of it—deep, enormous blue—
that widens, while the sky slants back to pale
behind a watercolored mountain.
Listening to this makes me feel like I’m standing on the scenic outlook at the summit of Logan Canyon. That is, of course, where Swenson wrote it.
For more on the Utah poet May Swenson, see our website www.wildaboututah.org
Thanks to Paul Crumbley and Maria Melendez of the English Dept. at Utah State University.
And thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development for today’s program.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Readings: Paul Crumbley and Maria Melendez of the English Dept, Utah State University
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand
Sources & Additional Reading
Knudson, R.R. and Suzzanne Bigelow. 1996. May Swenson: A Poet’s Life in Photos. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.
Swenson, May. 2000. Nature: Poems Old and New. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.