Seven Rivers, Seven Poems: How rivers stir our creative juices
Middle school students from Missoula, Montana penned these words after drawing inspiration from some of the area’s storied free flowing rivers. Since time immemorial, nature has been the inspiration for art, literature, film, and other creative outlets. Cave paintings and petroglyphs depicting animals and land/human relationships were created by Indigenous peoples and remain cherished cultural sites today.
In the early 1800s, Hudson River School landscape painters painted forests, mountains, and wild rivers along with cultivated landscapes like farms. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among many others, were renowned for nature writing in general, and American nature poetry in particular. Montana’s rivers served as the backdrop for Norman Maclean’s 1976 novella, A Rivers Runs Through It, and the subsequent film starring Brad Pitt that brought fly fishing to the masses. Wooden bears, fish, and other wildlife carved with chainsaws remain a popular form of sculpture today in Montana.
It’s clear that nature and rivers have long had the power to inspire creative expression.
Through a unique partnership, American Rivers has teamed up with the Missoula Writing Collaborative to inspire creative placemaking through “ekphrastic poetry”—poetry inspired by nature photography. Using photographs of water—rushing torrents, placid pools, swirling eddies, and burbling currents—7th grade students at Missoula, Montana’s C.S. Porter School authored poems about seven of the 57 western Montana waterways American Rivers seeks to protect through the ongoing Lolo National Forest Plan Revision and future Bitterroot National Forest Plan Revision. Students worked with a local poetry instructor to write poems about the Clark Fork River, Clearwater River, Fish Creek, Kootenai Creek, Morrell Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, and Rock Creek.
A river poetry storymap showcases select young poets’ awe-inspiring interpretations and renditions of their home rivers. To move from individual poetry to collaborative work, each student chose a favorite line from their own poem. Woven together, these lines represent the words of each class—in total more than 175 students—and are a testament to the collective power of inspiration.
Designed by local artist Eileen Chontos and debuted to honor National Poetry Month, the River Poetry exhibit opened on First Friday, April 7, 2023 at PureWest Realty gallery and included the following poem panels:
- Clark Fork River
- Clearwater River
- Fish Creek
- Kootenai Creek
- Morrell Creek
- Rattlesnake Creek
- Rock Creek
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