Arts in the Parks

Earth Day may be coming up, but here at My Poetic Side we don’t need a holiday to celebrate the gorgeous natural landscapes that this country offers. The sun is out and vacation is on our minds, but there’s so much inspiration to be found – inspiration that we’re eager to channel into our own poetry. Luckily the National Park Service has created an artist in residence program called Arts in the Parks, merging the beauty and solitude of these historic national parks with the unique opportunity for poets and other artists to harness the endless inspiration of nature. To celebrate this flourishing program, right below the interactive map, we’re showcasing some of Arts in the Parks’ most prolific national parks and the poets who resided there.

Current Residency Programs Across the National Park System

Everglades National Park in Homestead, Florida

Established in 1934, Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the contiguous United States. Spanning over 1.5 million acres and three counties, this park receives on average 1 million visitors each year. Visitors to Everglades come for the gorgeous waterways, incredible landscape, and to catch a glimpse of one of the parks many rare and endangered species – including the manatee, the American crocodile, and the Florida panther.

Diana Woodcock was a 2007 Artist in Residence at Everglades National Park. Her urgent verse tells the story of time’s impact on her residency. As a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus in Qatar, Woodcock’s limited time at Everglades National Park signals not only a short engagement as an artist in residence, but a rare appearance stateside. Before teaching at the university in Qatar, Woodcock spent eight years working in Tibet, Micau, and on the Thai-Cambodian border. And it’s her international focus that informs her best work. While in residence at Everglades, Woodcock was conscious of the dissonance between the oil-dominated sheikdom of her home in Qatar and the calm sanctuary the Everglades provides for endangered species. This balance of urgency and peace shines through in her work in a magnificent way.

Karla Linn Merrifield was a 2009 Artist in Residence at Everglades National Park. The spirit of the Everglades pulses through her work, and rightfully so. Merrifield takes an en plein air approach to her writing, allowing the sense of place to wash over her as she takes pen to paper. She began Chasing Moons in the Everglades, her book of poetry from her residency, by exploring Everglades National Park from a naturalist’s perspective – examining each inch of the habitats she was exploring with a scientist’s eye. She then took on her poet’s eye, translating each Everglades habitat into verse. The result was something magical; Florida humidity mixed with natural beauty.

Former artist in residence Anne McCrary Sullivan knows that poetry requires incredible attention to detail to be successful; it’s abundantly clear that she was seeing the world in a nuanced and detailed way during her Everglades National Park residency. Sullivan utilized field guides and took on the responsibility of scientific methodology while exploring the Everglades, and then taking a metaphorical macro lens to the national park as she translated her observations into poetry. The sawgrass and pinelands seemed to be calling Sullivan home, despite her North Carolina upbringing and this makes its way into her poems with such ease and beauty.

Badlands National Park in Interior, South Dakota

Badlands National Park is home to the largest undisturbed grass prairie in the United States. Just over a fourth of the national park’s 242,756 acres is designated as a wilderness area, providing a reintroduction site for the black-footed ferret, among other animals. The black-footed ferret is considered the most endangered land mammal in entire the continent and lucky artists in residence can catch a glimpse of this rare creature. And if the unique wildlife isn’t enough of a draw, the buttes throughout the park showcase a rugged beauty that is quintessentially American.

Kathleen Heideman was a 2010 Artist in Residence at Badlands National Park. She sees her role as a poet to praise and probe both her subject and her audience. In her collection of poems about national parks and landmarks, Heideman sees her audience as travelers and her poetry as a map, guiding and inviting these visitors to see the parks from her angle. This is especially evident in her poem “O Give Me Land – Lots of Land”, where she observes a porcupine exploring Badlands by crawling under a barbed wire fence – a fence that would harm him as much as he harms humans – if not for the barbed quills the porcupine sports. Her poetry is rich with the coordinates of the park, making it a joy to be one of Heideman’s visitors. Heideman has also served as an artist in residence at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, as well as several national landmarks and monuments.

Denali National Park and Preserve in Denali Park, Alaska

Located on the highest mountain in North America, Denali National Park encompasses six million acres of parkland and national preserve. The national park is home to both forest and tundra, offering poets a picturesque landscape of inspiration spanning a wide range of elevations.

John Morgan was a 2009 Artist in Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve and used his residency to claim Denali as home – even just ten days. His poems blur the line between refuge and wildlife, allowing himself to be fully immersed in the world of this gorgeous national park. The power that nature had over Morgan’s writing is embodied beautifully in his poem “Vision”, a piece that utilizes a fractured style to mirror his incomplete thoughts as he departed Denali National Park and Preserve in search of the home he’d temporarily left behind.

Laura Schandelmeier was a 2012 Artist in Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Schandelmeier valued the ten days she spent in the park, noting that she’d been a frequent visitor to the national park over the course of several decades, but never quite took the time to get to know the terrain. Her poetry from her time as an artist in residence celebrates the intimate moments that Schandelmeier shared with the park’s other inhabitants – the bear at her cabin window, the budding shrubbery, and the melodic sparrows. Her writing captures perfectly the peace and wonder that permeates Denali.

Poet Trey Amos, “In These Parks”

You must register to comment. Log in or Register.