Poetry as Conservation: The Lost Lexicon

Poetry as Conservation: The Lost Lexicon 4


Poetry as Conservation: The Lost Lexicon

Lost Lexicon was exhibited  at the Leelanau Community Cultural Center in Leland, Michigan, where Wren Spaulding is the 2017  Ann Hall Artist-in-Residence.  Hear her interview about the project on Interlachen Public Radio

Holly Wren Spaulding is the author of If August (Alice Greene & Co., 2017) and two other chapbooks of poetry, as well as numerous articles and essays published in places like the New York Times, The Nation, Witness, and The Ecologist. She runs Poetry Forge, an incubator for writers, rebels and their work, and resides in western Massachusetts where she teaches occasional letterpress poetry workshops with her colleagues at Big Wheel Press in Easthampton.

“My  first residency at Blue Mountain Center happened ten years ago,” she says, “and I have returned as often as possible, ever since then.”


Words enter and leave our lexicon according to cultural and linguistic trends, and our dictionaries reflect these shifts to define the language of our time. Since 2007, Oxford University Press has deleted from their junior dictionary a list of words that have fallen out of common use in order to make room for those that describe the way we live now. Thus, broadband and chat-room have replaced bluebell and clover, reflecting our increasing connection to technology, as well as our widening disconnection from the natural world.

Most of us will be familiar with the words that have been removed, and might even use them from time to time in ordinary speech. Whether we would know a beech or a kingfisher on sight is another matter, and whether we are teaching our children these things is a question I’ve also considered, especially since my own daughter is the precise age of reader that the editors aim to serve with their dictionary.

As habitats and species disappear from our lexicon, what is lost? This work-in-progress is an effort to open a dialogue about what it means to us, collectively and individually, to gradually lose a way of knowing. When a word disappears from our language, does that mean we gradually forget, or simply never learn, the thing itself for which the word was the name?

I’ve called this project LOST LEXICON not because several dozen words are no longer included in a particular dictionary, but because we ourselves are losing a way of being in relation to the plants and animals that share this planet with us. In this context, poetry becomes an act of conservation; a way of preserving some of the things I notice, and hear, and care about.



I wanted to speak

with the plants

and animals


as St. Francis

stroked the hare

the sow the robin


who knew

somehow that

he was a friend





Defeat comes like rain

over a mountain range


A beetle the size of a thorn





Miniature suns

aglow above

a crude clay vase


It’s their unself-

conscious grandeur

I admire


Every present pain

all I can’t change



But those petals

glossed yellows


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