The ancient link between poetry and nature is on display at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in the exhibit “Letters & Leaves – Nature as Inspiration for Poetry.” The exhibit, which takes place in the conservatory and throughout Matthaei and outdoors in Nichols Arboretum, highlights poems by established writers and by U-M students. Also featured is an installation of nature-inspired photography by U-M students and staff, and community members. Exhibit runs Nov. 29-Jan. 4.

The Tunnel, by Hilda Havlik, retired occupational therapist

Giants, by Jochen Schacht
Professor of Biological Chemistry, UM Medical School

Misty Sunrise, by John Wirth, MAtthaei-Nichols member
Poetry’s deep ties to nature made for plentiful connections to the Arb and Gardens, says Catriona Mortell-Windecker, education program manager at Matthaei-Nichols. While initial plans encompassed the larger field of nature-inspired writing, poetry offers a concise response to our interaction with nature in a moment or a place, she adds. “And with poetry we could narrow a wide field and still offer the intensity of the physical experience of the conservatory and the Arboretum together with some great verse.”
Even if poetry might not be regular reading material for some visitors, Mortell-Windecker says the exhibit aims for an experience that “begins in delight and ends in wisdom,” as poet Robert Frost wrote. “Our hope is that through the broad sampling of poems on display and the botanical environment visitors will find something that speaks to them.”
The exhibit has evolved into a rewarding collaboration between the Arb and Gardens and faculty and students in the university’s English department, says Mortell-Windecker. And it’s also in part the product of an 8-month internship for English major Andrew Miller. The LSA senior and budding writer has been a decision-maker on the exhibit planning committee, researching and selecting the published poets on display, soliciting poetry from the larger student body, and consulting with faculty throughout the process. Partnerships with faculty have been key as well. Larry Goldstein, Professor of English and editor of The Michigan Quarterly, offered advice and guidance, as did Residential College lecturer Virginia Murphy.
The exhibit culminates in a poetry reading on December 10 by U-M faculty Keith Taylor and Lorna Goodison. Taylor, a longtime friend of the Arboretum and Gardens and an adjunct professor in the MFA program at Michigan, will read a selection of work including a poem he wrote for the opening of the Great Lakes Gardens last year at Matthaei. Given her upcoming retirement from the English department, Goodison’s appearance at the reading offers the rare opportunity to hear one of the Caribbean’s most distinguished contemporary poets.
Letters & Leaves also offers attractions beyond poetry and photography. An Open House on November 29 kicks off the exhibit with greens and seasonal items in the gift shop and the annual Spinner’s Flock fiber arts sale. On December 6 from 10 am-noon children and their parents are invited to “Wonders of Winter,” a craft and wreath-making workshop. Father Christmas visits on December 20 from noon until 2 (free); Plus, throughout the exhibit run there will be a seasonal flower display in the conservatory, a series of trees decorated with hand-crafted ornaments relating to the Letters & Leaves theme, a display of faerie houses; and spontaneous poetry-writing opportunities for all visitors. Call or visit the Matthaei-Nichols website for details.
Exhibit: Letters & Leaves – Nature as Inspiration for Poetry
Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum

Nov. 29 through Jan. 4

Open daily, 10 am-4:30 pm; Wednesdays until 8 pm. Closed Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Eve. Open New Year’s day 10 am-4:30 pm. Free admission.

1800 N. Dixboro Rd. (Matthaei)
1610 Washington Hts. (Arboretum)