Those of you that catch me on Instagram know that one of my favorite things to share is the garden, the blooming flowers, the bean that sprouted, or my dog Spanky stealing a carrot from the day’s harvest.
Recently, as I return to writing, I’ve been thinking a lot about plants and poetry. Both acts of labor. Both with the ability to feed the body. I know this, as I come from a bloodline of agriculture, farmers, and fruit pickers. I continue to honor my ancestors with every harvest, growing organic veggies in my backyard for my loved ones.
Today, I see plants and poetry as similar art forms of craft, revision, and impact. The act of farming, pruning, laying down seed, de-weeding all serving in my life as later discovered metaphors for my understanding of the world.
Now, if there is a glimpse of beauty behind the devastating occurrence of COVID-19, I’d say the influx of people returning to the earth is miraculous. With our role in keeping our families home, safe and fed, it’s amazing to see neighbors investing their time to grow food. Unloading their cars with bags of soil, seeds, vegetable starters and flowers. I walk outside my front door and see poetry. There is joy when a child picks a flower. I notice an elderly woman I’ve never seen, pot a tomato plant. I witness: process, product, and spiritual fulfillment in these moments. Where there is growth (or even lack of growth), there is poetry.
While reflecting on plants and poetics as vital actions of process, I invited a few writers to share their personal connections to the earth and language. I do hope you enjoy!
My Poetics of the Land
By Chris Baron
because I’ve spent
every word I have
I walk out into the garden
pick olives chop garlic
jalapeño sea salt
I have no idea what I am doing
somehow I connect with this dirt
some quiet land to look after
avocado trees and olive groves
cherimoya and stone fruit
float over beds of lantana
and rosemary green and blue
but even here the story aches
with my hands on the shovel
my atoms spill in different directions
because New York City hustle
where I came from
fills my mind even now
this tension between
is the source
of the stories
the cold wastelands
and stretching plains,
the mountain peaks
the forest heart
where the river
winds to the sea
the avocado ripens
in the afternoon kitchen
the olives brine in the vinegar
everything is a story
It’s the quiet land
that looks after me
BIO: Chris Baron is a hopeful farmer who lost his way, but he is hopefully finding it. He is also the author of a ALL OF ME, a middle grade novel in verse from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. Learn more about him at and on Twitter: @baronchrisbaron Instagram: @christhebearbar
On Propagation as Writing Praxis
By: Gionni Ponce
I’ve been learning about and experimenting with plant propagation lately. Not all plants can reproduce through cuttings, not all cuttings will take root. But the ones that do, do so with an enthusiasm bright enough to give you pause in your day. A wayward vine, a waxy leaf, a prickly paddle can all be snipped and grown into its own plant, and where the cut was made? New growth, in time. My plants teach me patience and allow me to appreciate the small wonder of a cactus bud.
When I bought this cactus, it was just one spindly paddle that fell over whenever Bloomington let out its breath. It was alive, it was beautiful, and I was sure that chopping it in half would kill the plant that I loved. Since then, I’ve cut and watched as new sections took root. My cactus made the move with me all the way to Arizona where it continues to become something more than its original self, but using its own natural process. As a writer, especially of fiction, I often think of myself as a builder and tinkerer. All the parts have to be carefully crafted to fit seamlessly together, but plants remind me that stories can also grow.
BIO: Gionni Ponce is a Macondista prose writer who focuses on writing about Latinx women and their many languages. In her gardening work, she believes in survival of the fittest. All her living plants are extremely hardy. She planted her first food garden under the careful direction of Ross Gay. Twitter: @GPisMe
How my garden shapes my poetry By Jeeni Criscenzo
Some may write poetry to share their feelings of love, passion and pain. But for me, poetry is a way to educate about the injustice and suffering I see. Some days, my empathy can be too overwhelming. Writer’s block plops down on the sofa like an unwanted guest. Feeling frustrated and impotent, I turn to my garden for restoration of my muse.
Of all the lessons my garden offers, the one that always sets me back on course is that nothing disappears – it is simply transformed. Even ancient trees are in a constant process of transforming themselves and their surroundings. Although rooted in place, their leaves are continually transforming sunlight into life until falling to become mulch. Meanwhile, their roots are engaged in a persistent underground revolution, delivering urgent alerts to their microbial comrades. Their harvested wood becomes housing and furnishings. All of life leaves its mark.
The simple act of pulling weeds re-enables me. I have the command to determine that a dandelion must be removed from the place it has miraculously thrived. I can choose to let it be, or pull it to feed to the chickens where it will become an egg or chicken cells or poop, or I can add it to my compost pile where it will become part of a rich microbial feast for plants for my nourishment. Weeding becomes, not only a heart-healthy exercise, but an exercise in encouragement – I can make a difference!
And when I am finished playing Garden Queen, I can sit back and enjoy the beautiful surroundings I’ve had a hand in creating. I notice the interdependence of everything, no matter how insignificant, and from that I draw perspective and the inspiration to share. Empowered, I am ready to write.
BIO: Jeeni Crescendo was the 2006 Democratic candidate for Congress. As part of the Occupy Movement, helped found Women Occupy San Diego, to address community justice issues. In 2010, she founded Amikas, to house homeless women and children. She was KPBS 2016 Local Hero. She is an avid gardener and enthusiastic performance poet.