Daily Video

September 23, 2011

Understanding Natural Disasters Through Poetry

Watch Floods, Fires, Storms Fodder for Centuries of Poems on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Poet and editor Jeffrey Yang has had many occasions to think about humans’ relationships with nature in the past year, with wildfires, floods, tornadoes and a tsunami all making headlines. He has edited a new book of poetry called “Bird, Beasts and Sea” that features poems examining that relationship.

“I think poetry in general brings us to a certain kind of awareness about things,” says Yang. “With nature poetry, a lot of these poems might not come directly out of, say, a natural disaster, but a lot of the poems, I think, relate to what is happening. And a lot of it is about how we heal in a lot of ways from these disasters.”

Poet William Everson writes, “But we, being earth-struck, watched from the fields, ’til the rising rim shut out the light, ’til the sky changed, the long wounds healed, ’til the rain fell.”

Yang says Everson writes this from the perspective of a poet watching wildfires burn but unable to understand what is really happening. Many nature poems, says Yang, are about the “mystery that is at the heart of nature, of not able to understand it.”

Quotes

“I think poetry in general brings us to a certain kind of awareness about things. With nature poetry, a lot of these poems might not come directly out of, say, a natural disaster, but a lot of the poems, I think, relate to what is happening. And a lot of it is about how we heal in a lot of ways from these disasters.” – Poet and editor Jeffrey Yang

Warm Up Questions

1. What is poetry?

2. Name some natural disasters that have made headlines this year. Where did they happen?

3. What purpose do you think poetry serves for the poet? For the reader?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think poetry could help people heal from natural disasters? Why or why not?

2. Which poem read in this video was your favorite? Why? What did you take from it?

3. If you were to write a poem about one natural phenomenon, what would it be? Why?

Additional Resources

Video Transcript

NewsHour Poetry Series

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