Poetry In Joshua Tree National Park

This upcoming weekend continues a celebration of Gram Parsons as well as innovative program of Poetry workshops in the Joshua Tree National Park led by poet Jodie Hollander.

Fifty years ago, Gram Parsons, the 1970s alt country rocker, famous for his duets with Emmylou Harris, and as a Byrds bandmember, co-founder of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and for influencing the Rolling Stones in embracing country music, died in a motel in Joshua Tree of a drug overdose.

Parsons had stated that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread over Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park. Parson’s stepfather had other plans, wanting to bury Parsons in New Orleans. As legend has it, Parson’s friend Phil Kaufman stole the body from LAX, drove the coffin to Joshua Tree and set it ablaze at Cap Rock (the ashes that remained were eventually buried in Louisiana.

Not unlike Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, the site of Gram Parson’s immolation has attracted pilgrims ever since, with the Park having mixed reactions to acknowledging the site and the offerings left by his fans. However, over time, the Park has come to appreciate the visitors and Joshua Tree the tourism, and so for the 50th anniversary Joshua Tree Inn & Motel is hosting a Gram Parsons tribute weekend.

At the same time, over September 22-24, 2003, Joshua Tree National Park will host poet Jodie Hollander for a series of free poetry workshops. Hollander is the originator of Poetry in the Parks, which she has offered at several National Parks and Monuments in the US.

I felt the beauty of the natural surrounding would inspire people to write poetry.” Hollander told me recently, “and allow people to deepen their connection to their public lands.

Hollander’s work has appeared in such journals as The Poetry Review, The Yale Review, The Kenyon Review, and The New Criterion among many others. Hollander’s second poetry collection, Nocturne, was recently published by Liverpool & Oxford University Press in 2023 and was longlisted for the Laurel Prize in Nature Writing

The poetry workshops will be held at Cap Rock and are as follows:

Landscape Poetry – September 22 at Cap Rock 4 pm–6:30 pm

Here is Hollander’s description of the workshop: Drawing inspiration from the natural beauty around us, this workshop offers participants an opportunity to take in nature and turn their observations into powerful and vivid poems. In this course, we will study examples of celebrated poems that effectively capture the wonder and beauty of nature. We will also discuss techniques such as metaphor, imagery, repetition, and sound as well as cover effective use of line breaks.

Poetry of Grief & Healing – September 23 at Black Rock Nature Center 12 pm–2:30pm

Hollander’s description for this workshop is as follows: For centuries, creating art, and writing poetry, has served as a form of healing for hurt, pain and grief. In this workshop, we discuss examples of celebrated poems that tackle these difficult topics and study effective techniques for channeling our pain into poetry. Then, through a series of writing prompts, we will delve into our own experiences and turn them into powerful, effective poems. This workshop is for anyone who is interested in the incredible transformative power of poetry to heal wounds.

And last, but not least, Hollander is leading a workshop on Narrative Poetry – September 24 at Cap Rock 9 am–11:30 am, which she describes as follows: Humans have long been attracted to the art of storytelling. One could say that our lives are composed of a series of different stories that we tell ourselves and/or one another. In this workshop, we look at this narrative art and how to effectively channel our experiences into powerful poetry. We will study and discuss examples of celebrated poems and discuss techniques for sound and crafting good poetry. Then, through a series of writing prompts, we will examine our own narratives and turn them into poems. This course will consider tempo, pacing, and effective use of line breaks. This workshop is for anyone interested in poetry and storytelling.

Hollander feels the poetry workshops also serve a greater purpose: “If people write a poem [in a National Park], they often become advocates for their public lands.”

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