Art Beat: A Fine Canopy

Aug 27, 2020

Alison Swan hiking in the Olympic Mountains
Credit David Swan

For Alison Swan, nature is more than a place outdoors. Nature isn’t a place apart. It’s part of who she is, and she is a part of it.


Swan says everyone should understand that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. Her essays and poetry are one of the ways Swan hopes will help take that understanding mainstream. Her collection of poetry, A Fine Canopy, expresses Swan’s love of nature and invites the reader to share it.

“Probably a subtext of everything I do, including in the classroom, is my hope and desire to inspire people to go outside,” says Swan.

Swan is often called an "eco-poet."

“I guess it’s sort of the hip way of referring to a nature poet. Although it has the added layer of environmental awareness and engagement. In other words, poems written by an eco-poet would be expected to show awareness of environmental crises and maybe even a willingness to take action on them.”

Credit Wayne State University Press

Swan and her husband David have been active in efforts to protect and preserve the Saugatuck Dunes on Lake Michigan since 2001. In 2006, they founded the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance.

“I was living in the Pacific Northwest in my late 20's,” Swan says. “My husband and I decided it was time for us to move back to Michigan for professional and personal reasons. We're avid hikers and backpackers, and we discovered Saugatuck Dunes State Park. We became avid Saugatuck Dunes hikers. That was in 1988.”

Along with her environmental activism, Swan has contributed to several books and anthologies that focus on Michigan's wilderness areas. She wrote the introduction to The Saugatuck Dunes: Artists Respond to a Freshwater Landscape. Her work appears in the anthologies Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction; Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology; Here: Women Writing on the Upper Peninsula; and Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry. It has also been published in the North American Review and TriQuarterly and The Michigan Poet broadside series and anthology. Swan founded and hosts the Eco Book Club at Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore in 2015.

Alison Swan’s first full-length collection of poems, A Fine Canopy, will be released in October 2020 by Wayne State University Press.

Born in the Great Lakes basin, she is a Mesa Refuge alumna and a co-winner of the Petoskey Prize for Grassroots Environmental Leadership. After stints on the east and west coasts of North America, Swan settled back in Michigan’s lower peninsula where she teaches at Western Michigan University. Her Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes is a Michigan Notable Book.

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