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Art Beat
A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Nature’s Olympics

Janet Reading Her Poems at the Kalamazoo Public Library on December 5, 2014_cr_Hedy_Habra.jpg
Hedy Habra
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Janet Reading Her Poems at the Kalamazoo Public Library on December 5, 2014_cr_Hedy_Habra

Nature’s Olympics (Wipf and Stock, 2021) is Janet Heller’s fourth book of poetry. Divided into four sections, one for each season, Nature’s Olympics has an accessible style and approach to poetry. That’s something that is important to Heller – that anyone, of most any age, can read her poetry and understand it. But she also takes on adult themes, the intersection of political issues, feminism, and religion with nature.

A conversation with Janet Heller

“My previous collections had some scattered nature poems in them, but this is all nature poems,” Heller says. “The poems in this book deal with the four seasons of the year—that’s how the book is organized, into four sections … in general, my poems are very concise. I try to use as few words as possible to convey my ideas. The poems focus on all sorts of plants, trees, animals, and birds, and the poem forms include haiku, tanka, sonnets, and free verse. And I’m trying to make my poems as accessible as possible. I’m not trying to write only for people with doctoral degrees. I want everyone to be able to read and understand my work.”

Cover of Nature's Olympics poetry book.jpg
Jennifer Helner
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Resource Publications
Cover of Nature's Olympics poetry book

Heller says she has been strongly influenced by the oral ballad tradition, also known to be an accessible form of writing, telling stories and clearly describing situations. The final poem in this collection, All Love is Equal, stands somewhat apart with its political slant from the other nature poems as it deals instead with a Supreme Court decision in June 2013, stating that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

“The poem belongs in this collection because it’s about nature celebrating this decision,” Heller says. “I took a walk after I heard about the Supreme Court decision, and it seemed as though all the birds and insects and animals that I saw during my walk celebrating the Supreme Court decision that same-sex marriages were legal. I felt it was unfair for some individuals to tell other adults whom they could love and whom they could marry … I felt it was one of the most important decisions ever made.”

Janet Ruth Heller is a poet, literary critic, college professor, essayist, playwright, and fiction writer. She is a former president of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, and currently the president of the Michigan College English Association. Heller has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. Her other books of poetry include Exodus (WordTech Communications, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011). She has also published literary criticism, plays, and children’s books. Heller is currently at work on a memoir.