Prompt for the Planet: Community Creates
Sunday, Sept. 11 at 2 p.m., Englert Theatre, Iowa City, Free
When I was a kid, way back in the 1980s and ’90s, environmentalism was huge. Greenpeace was peaking. The Exxon Valdez oil spill hit when I was 11, and all of my nascent political energy in junior high and high school became focused on saving the planet. But then something shifted, culturally. Al Gore became a punchline. Details came out about what really was(n’t) being done with all the plastic we assiduously recycled. Oil and access to it became even more central to the economy. In 2008, Hurricane Katrina resulted in comparable amounts of oil spilled along the Gulf Coast as the Exxon Valdez had left behind in Alaska (8 million gallons vs. 11 million gallons), and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 dwarfed them both combined — but conversation and concern never matched the galvanization of 1989.
Luckily, as the song goes, the kids are alright.
While the current political landscape tries to frame so much of what I once considered common sense in environmental discourse as radicalism, young people are still rising up to the challenge of protecting this place we call home. In 2018, Shannon Nolan, a student at the University of Iowa, developed a senior creative capstone project with her instructor, David Gould, aimed at eliciting creative responses to the environment. Gould got Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman involved, and the resulting piece that she wrote became the Prompt for the Planet.
Think of one element and speak in its voice through pictures and words.
What would the fires raging in California say to the world?
What would the wind from Hurricane Maria demolishing Puerto Rico sound like?
What does freshly fallen rain on a state in drought feel and taste like through poetry? Love? Relief?
Think of it as creating an open letter from the planet.
Now, four years later, Gould, Prompt Press and the Lena Project are returning to the beginning. They have decided that the time is ripe for a new prompt. Following a massive gathering effort, countless community members engaged with Gorman’s prompt, resulting in responses that will be shared in a publication from Prompt Press and on the Englert stage at a celebratory event. At that same event, the new prompt will be revealed, and people will once again be asked to raise their artistic voices in defense of the only home we have.
“This project looks at art as down-to-earth, messy, and rhizomatic — not coming from on high, but grown from communities of people working at all levels of experience,” Prompt Press founder Jennifer Coville said in an email to Little Village. “Every time a person shares a response, it’s like they’re shooting out a little tendril of energy for others to latch onto, or draw from. The project shows how art like nature is always in collaborative flux.”
Coville says the program “hope[s] to spread shoots of interconnection” by involving a wide variety of community members, including respondents from Oaknoll, Shelter House, preschool classrooms, the Diversity Market and more. “We hope people from different stages and situations of life will look at their work archived on-line or come to the show and find delight in how others have responded to the same prompt.”
Dictation From a Tree (Removed)
By Mackie Garrett
There were wide arms
I stretched, a roof above
your roof and hurried heads.
I was a barrier
between you and raw sun,
a cool spot, a breath
untaken. Watch me
bear these last climbers,
their spiked shoes,
ropes and hot saws
tied to their ascent.
They lift a crane
to catch my mass and hold it
for flight? No, down,
dropping me gently
on your changing ground.
Response to the initial Prompt for the Planet. — Mackie Garrett
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 310.