This is the introduction in an ongoing series of blog posts about the poetry of place. Upcoming posts will focus on factories, mine fires, caverns, canyons, and Oklahoma.
I am from Pennsylvania, which is not like being from a place that sometimes stands for ideas larger than itself—a place like New York, Los Angeles, Texas. It’s just a place, and my mother will tell you that I’ve always been independent and without spatial boundaries. But to be boundless suggests less attachment, when in fact place and history have become defining identifiers in my life and in my poetry.
Three years ago, I moved to New Mexico to go to graduate school and now I live in Arizona. Friends and family visiting from Pennsylvania always remark that the land here is completely strange to them—supernatural in the purest sense. When I first came to the Southwest, I expected my poems to be filled with cacti and rattlers and dust, but I found myself instead writing forests and deer and lush. I’m not sure if this is as simple as missing what I don’t have because I know the dangers in both landscapes intimately.
Sometimes I look up at the mountains in New Mexico or Arizona, the result of tectonic plates crashing upward and spitting up the innards of the earth, and this is what writing feels like. Other times, like the Appalachians, the plates in my mind crawl, one falling under the next, slowly suturing the knot of the ground. This, too, creates beauty, and I have both.
Left: Pennsylvania (2014). Right: Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, NM (2013). Images by Sarah Gzemski.