Hello, and welcome to the very first entry of the Poetry Prints at Hartman blog. I am going to be brief about introducing myself here, because there is a whole dang page dedicated to doing that around the corner that you can check out. But for the sake of keeping you locked onto this post for the very immediate future: My name is Seth Thill. I am a 27 year-old poet, artist, and sometimes musician living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I have exactly one Muppet tattoo, and I am worried that the design of soda cans may soon become too minimalist. I have also been chosen as the 2022 Hartman Reserve Visiting Artist.
So, what does it mean to be the 2022 Hartman Reserve Visiting Artist?
Well, on May 20th of this year, I was sitting in a rented Hyundai Accent as my friend, Blake, drove us through a Spring snowstorm in Denver, Colorado, en route to Colorado Springs, when I received a phone call. I promptly stopped giving Blake directions and picked up the phone to hear that I had been chosen by the Hartman Reserve Visiting Artist Committee to serve as this year's artist. What receiving this honor means is that I will be spending this Summer working on a creative project that cultivates personal growth as an artist and supports the mission of The Hartman Reserve Nature Center, a 300-plus acre woodland in the Cedar Valley of Eastern Iowa. That mission reads:
Hartman Reserve Nature Center is dedicated to understanding our environment through education, recreation and community involvement and to stewardship of a unique natural area.
Once Blake and I pushed our rental car out of the ditch and got going in the right direction again (kidding), I couldn't help but continue the work I started in my initial proposal to Hartman by mapping out my new summer project (some may say I should have been mapping out the rest of our drive instead, but shrug).
So what exactly will you be doing, then?
How can my work as a poet and visual artist help to educate my community, increase people's understanding of their environment, hopefully nudge them towards stewardship? How can I best help serve that mission statement? Ever since I was a child in Dubuque, Iowa, exploring the Mines of Spain and finding a second home on the shore of the Mississippi River, I have deeply valued what nature can give to us, and tried to consider what we can do for it. How can I help others do the same?
To answer these questions, I return, of course, to stuff that I have already done. I am promise I am not lazy. It's just, you know what they say, "write what you know" and all that.
If you, like the incredibly overwhelming majority of human beings, are unfamiliar with my past creative work–the "what I know" that I have previously written–let me catch you up. My poetry as of the last few years or so has been focused on the role that pop-culture plays in how we collectively and individually process grief and trauma. I have looked at the broader implications of Tetris obsessions, lamented how I will never have Spidey-sense, and considered mortality through the lens of the unnecessarily derided musical genre, Nu-metal (shout-out to my fellow Iowans in Slipknot).
What could any of this have to do with environmental stewardship, you may ask. Well, both pop-culture and nature have served similar roles to me throughout my life, even if in different ways. Both have been a certain type of partial panacea for me throughout the trials and tribulations of This Crazy Little Thing We Call Life™. They are each a comfort, a reprise from the often relentless onslaught of Bad Stuff™ that we all have to deal with. While re-watching the E.T. for the 87th time and resting under an oak tree near the Mississippi River may be starkly different activities, each one gives us the ability to temporarily shut out the stress of our everyday lives, the opportunity to imagine broader possibilities.
I believe that to encourage environmental stewardship, we should be meeting people where they are at. In 2022, stewardship for most people simply cannot mean packing up and heading to a lake, Henry David Thoreau-style. People can, and should, appreciate their natural surroundings, while retaining room for their various cultural touchstones of choice. I think these things are often needlessly placed in opposition to each other. Walt Whitman and Walt Disney in the ring mono e mono.
What will the (4 month-or-so long) future entail for me, the reader?
As this year's Visiting Artist, I will be exploring these tensions in my poetry and in block-printed renderings of said poetry. The good, the bad, and the ugly (but not The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly–never been big on Westerns), it will all be examined. I don't think I am the only person looking to strike this balance between the natural and not-so-natural. So if you are interested in tracking my progress in this project, please subscribe. I will be posting updates every Monday (and hey, maybe some bonus posts here and there) with snippets of my poetry, photos of Hartman Reserve, printmaking pictures, and probably even more stuff as it occurs to me. Additionally, this project will culminate in a block-printed mini-chapbook of poems, so keep an eye on this space if you want to get your hands on one of those when they are ready.
I will also be hosting a few events in Cedar Falls and Waterloo over the Summer and early Fall to share my work with the community. While none of these events are set in stone yet, I will be sure to let you know when they are, and you can keep tabs on this page for a complete schedule as it comes.
Of course, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Connie Svoboda from Hartman Reserve Nature Center and the rest of the Visiting Artist committee for allowing me the time and resources to work on this project. This chance to grow as a poet and to improve upon my relatively newfound printmaking skills is much appreciated.
And thank you for reading! I hope you also read the next one! And the next! And maybe even the next after that.