What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "water"? Go ahead. What comes to mind?
Is it climate change, conservation, consumption, drought, extreme weather? In the hot, dry summer of 2015, certain buzz words are at the forefront of our minds, and all of them seem to relate to the state of our planet.
But bubbling under the surface, there are probably deeper, more innate connotations. Our connections to water are not just biological and environmental but also spiritual. Water has long been a source of contemplation as we ponder our place in the natural world. Sometimes, we are simply awed by water and its duality – both soft and graceful yet powerful, unstoppable.
Mary is a graduate student in education at the University of Alberta in Canada and a museum educator at the Fort Edmonton Park. She also happens to be the former poet laureate of the city of Edmonton, publishing more than 30 works and putting on some 200 performances during her tenure in the post. A well-known spoken word artist, Mary has competed in poetry slams across the U.S. and Canada, reciting her verses to everyone from symphony goers to soccer players to strangers on the sidewalk.
When Mary applied for an internship, she was enthusiastically welcomed by our Museum on Main Street (MoMS) team. They are knee-deep in developing a multifacted, pan-organizational initiative about water, as explored from a humanities perspective. It's no shallow task. The team has spent months collecting stories from fishermen, shrimpers, conservationists, Native people and others. The traveling exhibition, called Water/Ways, includes those personal narratives and goes on to discuss how the availability of water affected settlement, migration patterns, even the economy.
Mary immediately started thinking about how poetry might be an opening into this complex topic. Call it the summer of water and words.
In her two months with the Smithsonian, Mary's crafted an incredible body of work, including lesson plans that pull together water-themed works by T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, and contemporary U.S. and Canadian poets, with the overall goal of encouraging students to use poetry to describe what water means to them. The culmination of her efforts will be a downloadable portfolio of materials for teachers and anyone else.
Here's an excerpt from Moonshine by Mary Pinkoski:
And you, you waded through my oceans teaming with fish
traveled my veins to taste my lifeblood
tattooed an agricultural patchwork onto my back
chopped into the forest of my lungs
drilled into the bedrock of my bones
chiseled down my spine
and just when I thought you were running out of steam
you wrapped me up in railway ties
I was not meant to be corsetted in half
still I offered myself to you