MARTINEZ -- Aspiring and professional writers gathered to get to the heart of the matter about their natural environs beneath a tree canopy and shimmering sunlight on Saturday.

Their media was poetry.

Students in Eliot Schain's creative writing course at Alhambra High School joined published poets at the first ecopoetry festival at the John Muir National Historic Site to share some of what they have distilled in their written words.

"Poetry creates a metaphor that goes straight down to the heart," Schain said, describing his choice of expressive genre. "It's an attempt to attain the primitive as a source of beauty and put it into form."

On Saturday, the educator brought his students out of the brick-and-mortar campus where he had immersed them in Thoreau's "Walden," and where studying other transcendentalists are at the core of his curriculum.

The psychotherapist reminded the audience of the requisite political aspect that also is needed to save the environment and attempt to alter climate change.

"The festival is a means of taking our environmental consciousness seriously," the Berkeley resident said in a subsequent interview, noting that his mentor, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Haas' annual Watershed Festival in Berkeley inspired his idea for the local gathering of scribes.


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And those who read, from the white-haired to the adolescent, had famed naturalist John Muir as their shared muse.

The Martinez grounds that Muir once inhabited have been a place where one of Schain's students, Jordan Pastor, has spent many hours meandering, and the property, with orchards, was the nostalgic impetus for his poem, "Majesty" that the high school junior shared at the festival.

Meanwhile, longtime published poet Ellery Akers referred to Muir as her hero, who inspired her love for backpacking and a penchant for taking her troubles outside.

"The air that we breathe is something we all share," she said, before poetically referring to "the plants that throw up streamers of oxygen" and her creative process of "throwing (her) consciousness into those oaks."

Akers then quoted directly from Muir: "Earth has no sorrow Earth can't hear."

"Poets seem to be always writing elegies," she told the rapt small crowd. "I'm still hopeful it's a catalyst for change."

And, published writer John Oliver Simon noted how poetry "takes nature to a global stage," as he read a poem by a Chilean surrealist, and his own 11-syllable sonnets, which alluded to the decimated bee population.

He shared his hope that such ecopoetry inspires "profound questioning" that was an integral part of his 1960s era UC-Berkeley background.

Oliver Simon shared his harrowing experience of trying to get a toehold during a rock-climbing sojourn in the Sierra.

"I'd like to think (Muir) would be proud knowing that people are reading poetry on his property to help turn the minds of young people toward more of an environmental consciousness," Schain said.

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