Eco-Poetry and the Essay: Virtual Event Promotes Connection Through Art

The Southern Utah University Tanner Center hosted the Utah Humanities Book Festival Panel Discussion on Eco-poetry and the Essay, its first event of the school year, on Sept. 17. The virtual event featured distinguished writers and artists Paisley Rekdal, David Marquis and Pam Houston.

The panelists and mediators all participated from their homes. Mediators included Simmons Buntin, former editor in residence of SUU, and Danielle Dubrasky, the Tanner Center director and host of the event. 

The virtual format not only created a more intimate living room experience for viewers from SUU, but it also allowed for guests of the presenters and anyone with the link to participate from anywhere in the nation via Zoom. 

Only slight delays in sound at a few points occurred during the event and were short lived. The presentation went nearly as smoothly as if it were happening live.

The book festival is produced annually by the Utah Humanities Organization, and the poetry, art and essays presented were focused on environmental awareness and connection. Participants used those mediums to also call attention to other poignant issues, such as civil rights movements and current world events. 

In “The River Always Wins” by activist Marquis, his essay used the flow of a river to illustrate the unstoppable force of human freedom, and specifically how rights for minorities have been won throughout history. 

“There was a time in this country when black people were enslaved because of the color of their skin, but the river won. There was a time when women were not allowed to vote, but the river won. Through many centuries gay people had to live in the shadows and hide their truest selves, but the river is winning on that issue and will continue to. If enough drops flow together in the same direction long enough, the river always wins.”

Rekdal, Utah’s poet laureate, read from several of her pieces depicting everything from the apricot tree outside her window to the final days of her grandmother’s life in vivid imagery. She specifically emphasized our reliance and oneness with nature. 

Houston continued with this environmental theme and added how she has found hope in this politically turbulent and pandemic-ridden time through her presentation, a series of photos and the accompanying articles, entitled “49 Days of Lockdown.”

“Seemingly tumultuous times like this are a good reminder of our creaturehood,” said Houston. “They are a reminder of our need to rekindle connection both with our surroundings and each other, and preserve our world.”

The Utah Humanities Book Festival is the state’s largest annual book festival, currently in its 23rd year. The virtual festival will continue to have other events and readings through Oct. 22, featuring the members of this panel as well as other renowned authors, artists, essayists and poets. All events are free to the public. 

Visit the Utah Humanities website to learn more about the festival and the speakers of this panel, as well as for the dates, times and zoom links of upcoming events.

The Tanner Center events for the 2020-21 school year are focused on “building cultures of meaning.” Visit the Tanner Center website for more information.


Story By: Larissa Beatty

Photos by: Larissa Beatty and courtesy of