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Notes to Mother 

by Sheri Boggs

Various species of flora and fauna will not be the only things winding their way through Riverfront Park this Sunday. A procession of words -- descriptive of and inspired by the tangible properties of life on Earth -- takes center stage in the park as an unusually visible public poetry-making project. With the help of a small crew of EWU students, artist Rik Nelson has devised a method of interactive composition, and perhaps even more importantly, a way to display it.

"The panels we're making are eight feet wide and 14 feet tall," explains Nelson, taking a short break from the studio. "The letters and symbols will go on the panels, and the whole thing should be pretty visible from the crowd."

Nelson and his volunteer staff have spent weeks cutting earth forms and letters out of post-consumer recycled-for-this-project plastic and other materials.

"Some of the earth forms we're using include the spiral, because that's the form a fern takes as it unfolds, and also because it's the shape of a chamber nautilus," says Nelson. "We also have waves, which represent water, and air will be represented by a pennant shape. The letters are cut out of shampoo bottles, motor oil containers, soda cans."

From 10 am to 4 pm, four teams of EWU MFA poetry students (with one junior from M.E.A.D. alternative high school) will be inviting Earth Day celebrants in Riverfront Park to compose poetry in honor of the environment, Earth and nature. The poetry generated by the audience will be spelled out on the large panels by Nelson.

"We chose poetic forms that children and the general public will already be familiar with, for instance a haiku, or a ghazal, which a lot of school children are learning now."

Toward the end of the day, Nelson will go over the finished compositions on display, highlighting certain words with different colored letters, creating a larger "meta-poem."

"I've never done this before," he says. "But I trust the process and the creativity, that with a little direction, is just another way for people to talk about the Earth and the environment."

While the day's festivities are very much of the moment, the poetic inspiration will continue long after Earth Day is over. "We made note pads which the poet teams will take out into the crowd and have the audience tell us in 25 words or less their feelings about the Earth and the environment," Nelson explains. "They're a note-taking device for the poets, who will save everything they write, and also for people who want to take the pads with them. We'll publish all of it later on my Web site."

The Earth Day Poetry Project is Sunday, April 22 from

10 am to 4 pm in Riverfront Park at the Lilac Bowl. Call: 448-6155. Rik Nelson's Web site is at

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