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January 21, 2017

“In Praise of the Earth” to screen at Wistariahurst Museum

As part of a benefit for the Wistariahurst Museum of Holyoke, Mass., nature poet Wally Swist will screen his biographical documentary “In Praise of the Earth: The Poetry of Wally Swist” on Oct. 24, guiding viewers through the winters of Amherst.

 Swist, who was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1953, has had his poetry appear in countless magazines and publications, has broadcasted his poetry on NPR and is considered a master of the haiku, according to Arabesques-editions.com, a website dedicated to culture and literature.

The film follows Swist’s work as a nature poet. The University of Massachusetts’ own Elizabeth Wilda directed and produced the film. Swist, who will be attending the event, will also be selling copies of his poetry, while Wilda will be selling copies of the film.

According to the film’s promotion, written by Wilda, on Imdb.com, “The transcendent in nature and language are considered with poet, Wally Swist. Framing his work through the matrix of natural images, Swist leads viewers through the snowy woods of Amherst, Massachusetts. In our often frantic paced society, his poems invite listeners to slow down and think – a dangerous idea.”

“I find the transcendent in nature; nature is healing,” Swist said. “My work is informed by the nature world and mythology and spirituality, so nature is a huge key for me [in writing].”

Swist said that he has learned much from nature, claiming that it has informed the way he looks at life and therefore the way he writes.

“Most of my work has been written while outdoors, walking and hiking,” Swist said.

When walking through the woods, Swist feels an almost religious experience.

“I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders when I hike in the woods,” he said.

He added, “What that develops into is a loss of ego; we become one with what we see around us, whether it is running water or wind-blown leaves. We become open to the panorama around us and the depths of the natural world.”

Swist had said that he has a few favorite local spots where he likes to hike.

“Mount Toby is one of my favorite spots,” Swist said. “It provides a 360-degree panoramic view from the top near the fire tower. I have written a number of poems about the mountain.”

While he said that another favorite place of his to walk is the area around the Hitchcock Center in Amherst, his all-time favorite place to hike is the White Mountains.

“I have really enjoyed the expanse and the ruggedness of the White Mountains,” said Swist.

Being a nature poet, Swist said he is concerned about the disappearance of wild places.

“It’s not just the polar ice caps,” he said. “Nature is disappearing on us in rather salient and observable ways. Even in the towns we grew up in, we are losing green space.”

Through his poetry, Swist said he hopes to make people realize the value of nature.

Hailing from New England, Swist said he enjoys what he calls “the richness of the four seasons.”

Swist has a new book coming out on Nov. 28 about two famous New England poets. The book is called “The Friendship of Two New England Poets: Robert Frost and Robert Francis.”

“I refer to Robert Francis often as a secular saint,” he said.  “He befriended me the last two-and-a-half years of his life.”

Swist had said that he considers Robert Francis to be his greatest influence and chief mentor because of his humble lifestyle, in which he lived in a North Amherst, Mass., cottage for 45 years and grew his own food.

Swist mentioned other writers to be great influences on him as well. “I am a big proponent of the work of Mary Oliver,” he said. “She is, in my estimation, one of the best lyric poet writing.”

The documentary will screen at 1 p.m. and will be open to the public.

His published books of poetry include “The New Life,” “Blowing Reeds,” “Gristmill’s Trough,” “Silence Between Us,” “Waking Up the Ducks” and White Rose.

Bobby Hitt can be reached at rhitt@student.umass.edu

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