How did the idea, and title, of “You Are Here” come to you?
I knew early on that I wanted the project to focus on how poetry can connect us to the natural world. I remember sitting in the poet laureate office in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, trying to figure out what we could call this project. We had so many ideas. Sometimes, though, I’m best when I’m not under any immediate pressure.
Later that week, I remember walking out to Raven Run, a small nature preserve in Kentucky that I love to hike in. I was having a stressful day, the world’s bad news seeping in, and needed to get out of my head for one brief second and go to the river. Before my hike, I stared at the trail map, and I saw those lovely reassuring letters: YOU ARE HERE. And for a moment, I felt ease, a sense of stillness, a reminder that I was part of this planet, I was part of this time, and this moment was all I had. That’s how the project name came to be. I kept thinking that writing poems, for me, is also a way of reminding myself, “You are here.” Poetry and nature are some of the few things that allow me to remember the power and importance of one single moment in time. I’m so thrilled that the project is honoring how poetry and nature can help remind us of our interconnectedness.
How does this project build upon your first term as Poet Laureate?
My first term feels like a bit of a blur, a beautiful blur. There were so many life-changing events that it’s almost surreal to reflect upon. One of the most significant creative endeavors of my term was writing the poem for NASA’s spacecraft the Europa Clipper, which will launch to the second moon of Jupiter in 2024. The task was incredibly daunting, as you might imagine. A poem that folks around the world can sign on to in order to be included in the mission. One of the defining moments in the making of that poem was realizing that in order to reach toward space, toward Europa, toward discovery, I found myself returning again and again to the beauty and wonder of our own planet. In some ways, the project reflects nicely on the work of the first term, because if my poem “In Praise of Mystery” is “out there,” the project is answering with that with a call of, “You Are Here.”
Tell us about the two project initiatives—how they connect to and complement each other.
There are two elements of the “You Are Here” project, and I love the way they both are conversation with one another. The first element is a partnership with the National Park Service and Poetry Society of America with poetry installations on specially designed picnic tables in seven national parks throughout the nation. With “You Are Here: Poetry in Parks,” visitors can read selected poems in these incredible wondrous areas and see how a poem can help you deepen your attention. The installations will also include a prompt allowing folks to write a poem of their own if they wish. My hope is that the poems deepen the wonder of the selected National Parks.
The second element is the poetry anthology called “You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World.” This is a carefully curated selection of original poems from some of the nation’s best poets speaking toward their relationship with nature. Some of the poems are odes to beauty and resilience, and others delve into climate grief and the urgency of this crucial moment on this planet.
I love how these two elements work together because one is celebrating some of the most stunning landscapes we have in the United States, while the other is speaking to the daily nature in the backyard, ordinary trees in an urban park—or how human nature can conflict with the natural world. There are so many ways to connect with the world around us, and I’m hoping both of these elements expand our ways of thinking about both nature and poetry.