Celebrating National Parks with Poetry: Meet Amy Beth & Derek Wright

By Annie Newcomer:

Arches National Monument - Photo: Derek Wright/Parks & Points

Amy Beth and Derek Wright created the website Parks & Points in 2016, the same year the National Park Service celebrated its centennial. Parks & Points hosts an annual creative nonfiction contest and a spring poetry series, publishing self-reflective writing that evokes the landscapes, histories, and cultural legacies found within National Park Service units and many other diverse public lands.


Amy Beth Wright is a journalist and essayist. She contributes to a variety of outlets focused on food, travel, and spirits and also teaches writing at Purchase College (SUNY Purchase). She completed her MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She and Derek often collaborate on features about public lands and have together shared work in Fodors, American Wild, and StyleBlueprint. Visit amybethwrites.com to read more of her work. Derek Wright is a writer, designer, and photographer. With Amy Beth, he has written for a variety of publications including Fodors, American Wild, and Southwest: the Magazine. Derek originated Parks & Points as a way to celebrate national park sites and public lands. He also works as a theatrical lighting designer and teaches at New York University.

Meet Amy Beth & Derek Wright!

 

AN: Welcome to the Flapper Press Poetry Café, Amy Beth and Derek. I love that you have demonstrated how poetry creates connections between memory and our national parks experiences. On the back of your anthology book Wayfinding, Becky Lomax writes,

"When visiting national parks, we mostly rely on our visual senses to record the memory. But the poetry in Wayfinding touches other senses, wrapping the reader in bird chirps, campfire smells, and cool earthen textures. In doing so, the poems lure us into the interior journeys that shape our emotional connections to the parks."

This explanation is so poetic. While I know that you edit others' poems, reading this explanation caused me to wonder if you are each poets too? Can you share?


AB&D: We both love poetry, although we do not write poetry—it was one of the things we first shared when we began dating! We both write nonfiction, and together we wrote the essays in Wayfinding that delve into how ecosystems, landscapes, and topographies form and change and inspire meditation, self-reflection, and adventure. Because of our shared love of poetry, we recognized Parks & Points could become a venue that celebrated poetry and the work of many poets, and so we started the spring poetry series!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - Photo: Derek Wright/Parks & Points

AN: I have followed your projects, with both your essay contests and poetry contests, and have been so impressed. Might you share with our readers how your passion for the national parks developed into these writing opportunities for the public?


AB&D: When we visit a national park or public land, we always feel that we want to share that joy and experience. We felt that others probably had the same reaction. When Parks & Points first began, we were interested in helping people visit and showing how accessible parks and domestic travel can be. Then we started thinking about the why and realized this was at the core of the original website project—that public lands and parks evoke something unique within each person while offering an implicit sense of connection to others. They are part of our collective experience while also offering profound personal memories and adventures. We decided to publish more nonfiction about parks and lands to recognize both how they affect us individually and why they are of such value to us as a collective. There is a lot of “travel guide” content (and we certainly write those pieces as well), but there’s a magical way of being transported to the parks by others framing their experiences in writing. And, we feel essays and poems are a form of travel, as reading and listening to the experiences of others can offer the same feeling of joy and awe as visiting! Our poetry series was an intuitive point of growth once we launched our essay contest.

Yellowstone National Park - Photo: Derek Wright/Parks & Points

AN: I am so curious to know how many national parks you have visited? And how do you prioritize which ones you will visit in person?


AB&D: Between the two of us, we’ve visited close to half of all the national parks! When planning our travel, we look for and prioritize parks that we haven’t visited yet, which keeps us moving around the country quite a bit. For Derek’s 40th birthday, we made it to many of the Alaskan parks, as he had the ambition to see all 50 states before he turned 40!


Biscayne National Park - Photo: Derek Wright/Parks & Points

AN: Do you have any advice for our readers on how to create a "National Parks Bucket List" that families can use?


AB&D: It’s a lifetime journey to visit the parks. Many do so in short amounts of time, but there’s something different and quite special about taking your time. One suggestion is to try to visit as many parks in a particular region as you can while in the area. Many parks in the West and in Alaska are somewhat bunched together and can be done as a road trip.


It’s also helpful to expand the journey once you are in a particular region to other public lands like state parks, national forests, and so on—these also have similar topography and natural features as the national park in the area, and in some instances are less crowded as well. A good example of this is Dixie National Forest, just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park, and Pisgah National Forest outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


AN: Do you have a fun story you can share on an experience that you had at a national park?


Katmai National Park - Photo: Derek Wright/Parks & Points


AB&D: We didn’t expect to be able to use or training from “bear school” while we were at Katmai National Park. However, on our way back from Brooks Falls, we could hear some thunderous paw traffic on the trail behind us. One bear was pursuing another, and they were moving quickly! Derek immediately recalled the key points from our training almost verbatim (slowly move off the trail, talk to the bear, don’t run)—it is amazing how immediate it was and how much we’d taken in, just in case. We tucked into some trees along the walking trail while Derek had a chat with the bear, reassuring him in a loud voice that we saw him, and he should continue on his way. The bear seemed to slow his gait, pay attention to the noise, and become more guarded—it was amazing to be able to put what we learned into practice!


Grand Teton National Park - Photo: Derek Wright/Parks & Points

AN: Tell us about your book, Wayfinding, and why this is a good one to own and, of course, how you decided on a title for this collection of poems.

AB&D: The idea for Wayfinding came from years of publishing poems that we appreciate in our Parks & Points & Poetry series, which runs each April in honor of National Poetry Month. Both National Park Week and Earth Day are also in April, which is a great way to tie the poems to another celebration! Once we had published a significant body of work on our site and recognized that we would keep publishing this work, we wanted to explore sharing poems in a modality that allowed for more to be appreciated at once, with a deliberate and cohesive theme and focus and that allowed for some of our own reflective writing about parks and public lands.


The book is arranged like a journey on a trail, from forest, to mountains, to desert canyon. The reader joins us as we venture into each new landscape and emerges with a sense of wonder and amazement at the variety of different national parks and public lands. We feel it’s a book that celebrates a diversity of landscapes and histories as well as a vast range of poetic voices and styles. There is cohesion in the sense of movement and journey forward and the continuum of discoveries and ideas that accompany that!


Top: L to R—North Cascades National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park

Bottom: L to R—Zion National Park, White Sands National Park

All Photos: Derek Wright/Parks & Points


AN: Thank you for visiting with us today. Before we leave, I'd like to ask you to share 3 poems from your book, Wayfinding, for our Flapper Press audience.



 


Field Guide to Sycamore Island, Blawnox, PA

For Rick Duncan and Allegheny Land Trust


Morels break into damp spring light

past the three-trunked sycamore

on the channel-side where river traffic


flows, past the great blue heron nest

rising above the pebbled shore. Coal

barges tear silty loam and leave river


rocks for the Allegheny to hawk

and swallow, where turkey vultures sun

their wings like black crosses on electric

trees, where cedar waxwings trill

inside the Indian cigar tree. Scratched

spicebush potpourri. Orange


impatiens exploding. Do not live

like the wolf spiders in the storage silo

dining on tadpoles, never knowing


the dredge spoils that rise above the jet

skis and the fishing poles, never drinking

the sumac tea that boils into red paint or


holding the delta of green cottonwood

leaves that twist and conspire, never

rising with the ailanthus toward


the canopy sprouting neckbeards

about girdled cambium


as our island


slowly deposits


itself down the river.


I could

open my eyes and peel


grapevines off softwood.


I could break down

at any second.


I could smell acrid water


pouring from the discharge.


I could see


myself burning in the sky.


I could have been an eagle.


— Mike Good

 



The Blue Ghost Fireflies of Western North Carolina


The blue flickers in the mountain meadow caught us by surprise.

Their dance held majesty as much as play, like fairies: intentional with their mischief. Oh tactile pulse! (theirs)

Oh thrum of light! (ours) Growing up we called them lightning bugs. Their glow was slow and yellow and easily trapped. In Indiana, there were things I didn’t even know to desire: the way a man’s stubble burns lips differently at sea level than 5,000 feet up; the way some light, when captured, lasts only the night —but other light burns brighter. Other light will haunt.

— Mary Ardery

 


Sunken Forest - Photo: nps.gov

Sunken Forest, Sailor’s Haven


Limbs fall off

leaving knotted eyes

looking out from the forest.

The ecology of this sandy island

was always preparing

for a future

in which it didn’t exist. Is that

what I’m doing, too?

I grab the baby’s hand

to keep her beside me

while I can. The thick holly canopy

is surprisingly high.

— Emily Hockaday

 

Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit, that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community.


Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!


Flapper Press launches the Flapper Press Poetry Café.

Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize.


Submission Guidelines:

1. Share at least three (3) poems

2. Include a short bio of 50–100 words, written in the third person.

(Plus any website and links.)

3. Share a brief backstory on each submitted poem

4. Submit an Author's photo and any images you want to include with the poems

5. Send all submissions and questions to: info@flapperpress.com

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