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'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' Tamarac Discovery Center to host Nature Poetry Workshop on April 7

The natural beauty of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge has sparked many an artistic photograph like this one — and now, organizers of a Nature Poetry Workshop on April 7 are hoping that it will inspire some literary creativity as well. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
An English professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and a published author, Kevin Zepper will be leading a Nature Poetry Workshop at the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge's Discovoery Center on Sunday, April 7. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Tamarac Wildlife Refuge, with its 44,000 acres of unspoiled natural beauty, has been the site of many a photo safari and birding expedition over the decades since it was first established, and inspired countless paintings, sketches and other memorable works of art — so why not poetry?

After all, nature has inspired the works of some of America's greatest poets, essayists and novelists — Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, just to name a few.

That's the thinking behind a truly unique event coming up at Tamarac's Discovery Center on Sunday, April 7: A Nature Poetry Workshop led by Minnesota State University Moorhead English professor — and published poet — Kevin Zepper.

From 1 to 4 p.m., workshop participants will have an opportunity to not only learn some inspiring poetry and writing techniques from Zepper, but also to get outside and explore the refuge.

"It's a gorgeous place," said Zepper of Tamarac. "I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time, and there was never really an opportunity to do it."

So when Zepper had a chance to put together a workshop out at Tamarac, he jumped at it.

"Tamarac is interested in encouraging a new audience to visit the refuge... people that might not think about coming out to spend time on the trails, or don't realize the nice facilities we have for visitors," said Kelly Blackledge, who manages the Visitor Center at Tamarac. "And what better scenery to inspire nature writing? We're excited to offer this great workshop in conjunction with the Friends of Tamarac."

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate, Zepper noted.

"The idea is that we will be working inside, and outside," he said. After meeting inside the Discovery Center for their initial discussion, Zepper will send them outside to hunt for a suitable subject upon which to base their writing.

"The idea is, in the time that we have, to find a particular object that's hopefully not too far down the road, something like a stone or maybe a leaf, or something that says something or speaks to one of the participants, and then we go from there," he added.

Take a rock as an example. "You don't need to be a geologist (to describe it)," he said. "It's about, what do we see in the rock? Is there a memory tied to the rock, are the colors in the rock significant, what does the rock remind you of?

"The whole object of the writing exercise is we have to look from a poetic standpoint — we want to see the writing about the object shaped in a way that the object is, at least for the duration of our class, or our exercise, the center of the universe. Everything else revolves around the object that you have found and chosen to write about."

As part of the exercise, the participants will be sorted into pairs, and once they have finished writing about their particular object, they will switch objects, and have their workshop partner write about what they see in the object the other person chose. "That gives another dimension to the writing, somebody else's opinion, somebody else's idea, that will add to that narrative as well."

Zepper, who has been teaching English at MSUM for the past 19 years, will also give workshop participants some tools for expressing themselves with words — what he calls "the eight basic crayons of creative writing."

He says the concept for this workshop is really a combination of two different ideas — the first being taken from a book by author Georgia Heard, "Writing Toward Home," which offers practical advice for overcoming some of the challenges that all writers face.

"She has prompts in it for writing, and one of them is called visual geology," he said. "That (prompt) can be used for anything... looking at old photographs, looking out at the lake... it's about how anything relates to one's life."

The other idea, Zepper said, is one that he learned from a class that he had taken. "It (the class) wasn't necessarily about creative writing, it was more about understanding yourself... I can't take much credit for this other than synthesizing these two ideas together.

"Part of the impetus of poetry is to really take a thoughtful glance at some of the most common things, the things that we find underfoot, so to speak — which is what you find in plentitude at a wildlife refuge."

In addition to his work at MSUM, Zepper has also published a full length book of poetry, "Moonman," as well as four poetry chapbooks; volunteers with the Poets Across Minnesota Initiative; and is also one half of the collaborative music/poetry duo, Lines & Notes.

The cost of participating in this class is $15 per person (or $10 for Friends of Tamarac members). A limited number of scholarships are also available. For more information, please contact Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge at 218-847-2641, or visit the website at www.tamaracfriends.org.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454
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