Colorado Poets Center E-Words Issue #12

The Andes and Rocky Mountains: A Reflection on Place and Ecopoetics

(Juan J. Morales)

At an early age, my family moved to the south side of Colorado Springs, just outside of Ft. Carson.  Throughout my life, Cheyenne Mountain and Pikes Peak remained in my line of sight: Pikes Peak, an example of the state’s many 14ers with its rugged beauty and unpredictable weather and Cheyenne Mountain, which houses the soon-to-be-closed NORAD base, a cluster of blinking antennas at its top, and suburban real estate slowly creeping further and further up the mountain’s face.  Both have become symbols for the local landscape and also represent the visual cues for a lot of environmental questions that we ponder on a daily basis.  As writers,  landscapes like these two mountains, the view outside, and the intersections between the natural and human world guide us toward what we put to the page.  In some cases, it’s implied and in others it remains hidden even from ourselves. 

Juan MoralesI now live in Pueblo, Colorado, a small working-class town approximately 35 miles south of Colorado Springs.  I’ve lived here for almost four years, where I continue teaching at CSU-Pueblo and assembling my second collection of poems.  Somewhere here, writing in this state and region, there is a time shift that occurs and it leads me geographically south to South America, where the Andes rise along the west coast, cutting through Ecuador and Peru.  In my new poems, the high elevation always makes their presence felt.  It is home to the indigenas and a symbol of the New World’s unexplored uncertainties where fear and exhilaration meet. 

Along with my fellow Colorado poets, I celebrate the Front Range’s beauty, rich culture, and complexities by writing in it on my unique project, excavating my desire to revive the cultural world of the Spanish Conquest and Inca Empire’s collapse.  With my contemporary lens, I am looking at the era’s extraordinary elements, the people caught in its turbulent past, and how we can see its evolutionary and thematic influence on our world today.
Until my recent participation on a panel with five other Colorado poets at the 2010 ASP Conference, titled “Ecopoetics on Colorado’s Front Range: Intersections and Ecotones,” I never considered whether or not my poetry touched upon ecopoetics, but indirectly, my strong ties to Southern Colorado intersects with environment and its preservation.   In the past, I assumed ecopoetics to be an important but focused mode within nature writing with urgent messages leading the way, or, in its worst moments, romanticized and melodramatic musings about nature.  However, I discovered I am not an ecopoet exclusively, but I now see how my own poetry intersects with this mode.  In order to better define ecopoetics, I look to the words of Jonathan Skinner, editor of the journal ecopoetics, who writes: “Eco” here signals—no more, no less—the house we share with several million other species, our planet Earth. “Poetics” is used as poesis or making, not necessarily to emphasize the critical over the creative act (nor vice versa). Thus: ecopoetics, a house making” (Arigo).  It reminds writers and readers about the way our planet is always preserved in the creative act and that a certain level of urgency is at work in our quest to define and describe our home. 

Along the Front Range, the mountains remain a constant, our every day compass, which acts as a reminder of the unchanging landscape’s elements, the towering nature we cannot move.   But we also remain aware of how the natural world changes subtly too.  It could be the introduction of a new plant, the erosion of a rock face, the nearby construction of a new edifice, or reflections on a place that no longer exists, but these environmental changes shape our poetry and leave us to explore memory and history in a public and private space. 

In his essay, “Notes Toward an Ecopoetics,” Christopher Arigo writes,
Innovative practices and ecological thinking/being/feeling combine to produce a site of resistance, of politics, of political resistance.  Perhaps given the postmodern world in which we live, a world in which we are fully aware of the interdependence of the body upon its world for its health, a world that is now inextricable from the body, an ecopoetics is an inevitable outcome or byproduct: perhaps poetry as a practice is the best means of directly addressing an environment in crisis.  And perhaps this is why it is so difficult to pin down what makes a poem or poet “eco”—because the concern insinuates itself into so many elements of the writing, between the lines, in the white spaces, questioning even the paper upon which the poem is printed.

In the case of my current poems, the world in crisis has already been altered, but it is not to no avail since the poems allow me to communicate the same sensibilities felt by those who were tied to the land and those who came overseas to the New World.  These two people clash together, destroy each other, and create a new people in Arigo’s site of resistance. 

By reaching back, I have stumbled upon the ecopoetic concerns of resistance, revolution, and history, depicting in the way my poems gravitate toward a place and environment frozen in that time.  Some of this time remains etched in the stones and the landscape while the rest is consumed by nature’s overgrowth.  In some cases, the places these events occurred cannot be specifically marked, yet they still come alive through the chroniclers like Guaman Poma and El Inca Garcilaso de La Vega, who are the scribes who inspire and parallel what my own poetic voice.

Ultimately, I am writing poems to forge new viewpoints about history beyond determining victors and victims.  Even now, the Cheyenne Mountain and Pikes Peak linger on my mind just as much as the Andes.  I call the Front Range home and use its energy to assume its history and complications and to show how we all look back to learn about our present and to consider our future.  Every time we write poems, we are entering mysterious places and constructing them with line breaks, stanzas, and words that mimic where human and nature inevitably meet because they all inevitably change or vanish.

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Works Cited: Arigo, Christopher.  “Notes Toward an Ecopoetics: Revising the Postmodern Sublime and Juliana Spahr’s This Connection of Everyone with Lungs.”  How 2.  Vol. 3, No. 3.  <>.

Bombay GinPortfolio on Eco-Lit

Featuring a portfolio of “20 Years of Eco-Lit,” the summer, 2010, issue of Bombay Gin, the literary journal of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, is now available. Writers include alumni of Jack Collom’s Eco-Lit course as well as writing by Collom, Joanne Kyger, Andrew Schelling, Elizabeth Robinson, and Hoa Nguyen. (http://www.naropa. edu/bombaygin/)

Utah’s Nature Journal Ends Run

Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing from Utah State University has regrettably ceased publication due to funding problems. Isotope received national recognition in Poets & Writers, and Best American Science and Nature Writing and received two NEA grants. “Better to go out on top, as they say,” wrote Christopher Cokinos in the last issue.

He noted that other magazines still appearing in this field are Orion (www.orionmag azine. org), Ecotone: Reimagining Place (, Terrain: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments (, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment (,  and Hawk and Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability ( )