Mt Cuba Center
Mt Cuba Center
Back to News Updates – September 20, 2022


Poetry and Nature: The Perfect Pair

By: Alana Pugh

Push and pull the boundaries of language in Mt. Cuba Center’s first Poetry Workshop Series this fall. Join instructor, Ares Headley, for lectures on poetic forms and devices while reveling in natural inspiration from Mt. Cuba’s gardens and ecosystems. All poets are welcome, regardless of background or skill level.

Ares Headley is a writer, graphic designer, and applied sociologist working as a Public Programs Assistant at Mt. Cuba. They find the solitude, tranquility, and accessibility to the natural world at Mt. Cuba spurs the self-reflection and reflection on one’s surroundings that so often influences poetry.

Read on to learn more from Ares Headley about their upcoming Poetry Workshop Series.

A stack of blue, teal, white, and black books sits on a table in front of black-eyed Susans at Mt. Cuba Center.

  • Mt. Cuba Center: Poetry and plants seem like a natural combination; however, this is Mt. Cuba’s first poetry workshop! Can you tell us about your own poetic beginnings and how you have found inspiration in nature?
    • Ares Headley: I have always used writing, in any form, to express myself, but poetry stood out to me as a more distilled form of self-expression. Poetry is a way to play with the way we naturally use language — in ways that are non-traditional. I see many similarities in nature. Seeing nature behave in ways you would not expect can make you reconsider your conceptions about it. For instance, common themes in nature poetry revolve around peacefulness and pastoral beauty, and authors like Walt Whitman and Robert Frost typically come to mind. While I do appreciate these themes and authors, I like to write about the “unseen” aspects of nature; things that decay, live in the soil, and are equally unsettling as they are fascinating — because that is what nature is; it is both. The natural world is terrific, but it is also terrifying. Having that contrast intensifies the effect of the traditionally beautiful. You must have decay to have growth; you have to have a storm to feel the peace that comes afterwards.
  • Mt. Cuba Center: Because poetry is often so personal, it seems like it could be more of a solo activity. What are the benefits of working within a group setting when learning about poetic forms and devices? How have you personally benefitted from poetry workshops.
    • Ares Headley: Some poetry is personal; there is poetry that you only write for yourself that can be extremely vulnerable to share. But poetry can also be communal; you are communicating to others, and you know that you are putting it out into the world for others to hear and read. It is important to develop rapport with groups so that you know the people around you; you know what to expect — and the vulnerability does pay off. Having others’ opinions and suggestions allows you to explore different points of view, and to appreciate differences within the group. Working in a group allows you to challenge traditional notions and aesthetics — and Mt. Cuba is a great place to do that.
  • Mt. Cuba Center: There are so many program options in this series. Can you walk us through how each section of the series will be different?
    • Ares Headley: Absolutely! There will be four classes: Origins and Change, Nature and Culture, Self-discovery and Memory, and Resilience, Community and Ecology.
    • Origins and Change: These themes introduce workshops, and poetry in general, to attendees who may not be familiar with them. We will talk about the cyclical nature of ecology and life, and we will read written works, so students do not have to bring pre-written material. We will talk about things in nature that are front of mind with nature poetry before we progress into niche topics that are featured later in the series.
    • Nature and Culture: I want this class to be for students to consider the boundaries of what is considered nature and what is considered civilized. Nature is generally thought of being “out there” and something humans are separated from, and this class will explore these concepts more.
    • Self-discovery and Memories: Like the title suggests, this class will be more about personal experiences and how our relationship to the natural world can directly tell us about our relationship to ourselves. I think the lack of human structure in nature allows people to be stripped down to their base self, which is the theme of a lot of pastoral and naturalistic writing. It’s a symbol of the unknown but a symbol of freedom.
    • Resilience, Community, and Ecology: In this class, we will talk about interconnectedness and interdependence. We will discuss rectifying the “out there” with the “in here” and what our role as a human being is in our ecosystems.
  • Mt. Cuba Center: To help our readers get ready for the series, would you give a few authors who have inspired this series?
    • Ares Headley: Each week, I will give students a suggested reading list of authors we will discuss. I do not want to insert my personal aesthetic into this class, so I am including authors with a variety of styles. I tried to include works that traditional form and meter lovers will enjoy alongside free verse and surreal works that will push people’s boundaries. Some authors we will explore are Seamus Heaney, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Adrienne Rich.

Find creative inspiration in Mt. Cuba’s gardens through a poetry class or another art class this winter.