book cover for The Dire Elegies

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THE DIRE ELEGIES: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America

(co-edited with Roger M. Weir)
Published by FootHills Publishing, 2006


Dr. Edward O. Wilson, world-renowned Harvard entomologist and two-time Pulitzer-Prize winning author, points out in the epigraph to this unique collection of poetry, …the better an ecosystem is known, the less likely it will be destroyed.

This is the premise of THE DIRE ELEGIES: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America and why author Bill McKibben says in the book’s foreword, “These magnificent poems work as a chant to summon more of the love to save the endangered from extinction6”. It’s also why writer Susan Cerulean has called the book “an important manifesto: a must-read for our times.”

A helpful feature of the anthology is the species notes that accompany the poems each time a new species is introduced.

For example, when readers encounter Minnesota poet Shirley S. Stevens’s poem “On Spotting a Pygmy Owl,” they also learn: “The endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum, of the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, numbered only 12 birds when it was listed in the U.S. in 1997. A USF&WS recovery team began its work to rescue the species in 1998, but its fate remains precarious.”


Foreword: Regarding the Frog and Our Real Selves, Bill McKibben
Preface: A Righteous Case for the 1,277, Karla Linn Merrifield, Roger M. Weir
Epigraph, E. O. Wilson


 In the Beginning

Roll Call, North American, Chris Norment
A Bestiary of Continuous Extinctions, Steven Huff


Grizzly, Michele F. Cooper
You Are in Bear Country, Maxine Kumin
In Concert, Jen Eddy
Loss, Dennis Fritzinger
Killed by the Bear, John Hutchinson
Treat Each Bear, Gary Lawless
The Hunter, John E. Smelcer
Night Cat, Bruce Sweet
Piute Creek, Gary Snyder
Water Flowing Over Rocks, Erica Caldwell
Stalking the Florida Panther, Enid Shomer
Wolf-God, James A. Parsley
On Feet of Clouds/Yanlaey Kae, John E. Smelcer
Dominance, Susan Edwards Richmond
Boy & Zoo, Jon Palzer
Out of Balance, John E. Smelcer
Call of the Wild, John E. Smelcer
Tatanka, Linda Opyr
American Pome, Chris Green
Visions of a Fading Empire, Casey Carroll
A Fox, Chris Green
Black- Footed Ferret, Dennis Fritzinger
Adopt-a-Prairie Chicken, Erica Caldwell
Clem’s Peaches, Jessica Langen-Peck
Grass River Blues, Jay Franzel
Two Salamanders, Kathleen Van Schaick
At the Top of the Food Chain, Mary Laufer
In the Eyes of a Toad, Marian Lovene Griffey
Charting the Embryo, Katherine L. Gordon
The Dilemma, David Dodd
No Shrouds, Donna Marbach
In Search of the Madla’s Cave Webweaver, Patricia Roth Schwartz
Orion Espies a Tree’s Demise, Karla Linn Merrifield
Hart’s-Tongue Fern, Gerald Schwartz
Lichen, Rock Gnome, Wanda Schubmehl
Advice from Ancestors, Beau Cutts


The Last Valley, Katherine L. Gordon
Whale Ivory, Eileen Malone
Last Whale, Gary Lawless
Leviathan, Lewis Turco
Harpoon, William Heyen
Ascension, Margo Stever
For a Coming Extinction, W. S. Merwin
The Whale’s Tale, Joe St. Martin
The Manatee, Campbell McGrath
Chancing Upon the Manatees, Elise Paschen
Sirenia Mermaidus, Patricia Ellyn Powell
Grace Despite, Alisa Gordaneer
Our Delightful Weasel in the Sea, Michele Bar-David
Turtle Moon, Brian Swann
I walk the darkening beach, Wilda Morris
So Excellent a Fishe…, Dennis Fritzinger
Chinook.  Sockeye.  On special this week only, Alisa Gordaneer
Shortnose, Anne W. Hammond
Alewives, Marianna Tupper
Of High Sierra Rivulets and Not Burning Books, Ann Beman
Isolation, Jason A. Seivers


For a northern flying squirrel seen on Nov. 23, 1982, Elizabeth Lawson
Saturday, Tucker’s Cave, Alisa Gordaneer
Bats Deserve Better, Kathleen March
For Life, Lynn Pattison
Scavengers, Catie Jarvis
Condor, Susan Edwards Richmond
Craning, Richard Downing
Cranes to Come, Marilyn Peretti
On Spotting a Pygmy Owl, Shirley S. Stevens
The Long View, Todd Davis
Piping Plover, Shirley S. Stevens
Obsolete, Todd Davis
The Day There Were No Birds, Constance Vogel
Faded Blue, Lisa Scott Hilton
Lament for the Karner Blue Butterfly, Donna Marbach
Starvation, Jason A. Seivers

Romantic Poetry

T wenty-five thousand species, twenty-five thousand different kinds of lives are wiped from the planet by human excess and ignorance each year. We’ve pushed up the natural extinction rate a hundres to a thousand times. And the loss of each species creates a hole in life’s web, limiting Earth’s creative possibilities. With The Dire Elegies, we take the first step in healing, by naming that which we stand to lose. Gifted and passionate human voices blend together in this important manifesto: it’s a must-read for our times.

– Susan Cerulean, Tracking Desire: A Journey After Swallow-tailed Kites

If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world (or even if they’re not), now is the time for them to step forward and tackle a great theme, what W.W. Merwin calls the “coming extinction.” Luckily, some have taken up the challenge in this important and wide-ranging collection. In Gary Snyder’s phrase ‘a clear and attentive mind’ is needed for the task. We can see this mind at work in well-known poets such as Merwin and Snyder, Kumin, Heyen Turco and McGrath, as well as poets not so well-known, yet. All the writers in this anthology show the way. Let’s hope many other follow, poets and non-poets, all people with clear and attentive minds, to help us focus our creative attention where it needs to be focused.

– Brian Swann, poetry editor, OnEarth; and author of Autumn Road, winner of the 2005 Ohio University Press/The Journal Award

Will information save nature—or will love? We know enough to save nature. But apparently we don’t yet feel enough to do so. This anthology is a major advance along a most important frontier: forging compassion for endangered species, and using our human self-awareness to reflect on whether we really wish to travel the road we’re on.

– Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Voyage of the Turtle, founder and president of the Blue Ocean Institute

Love songs to the disappearing. Read them and weep. May this poetry be enough to recall our endangered from the awful edge.

– Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodWild Card Quilt and Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land.

Karla Linn Merrifield Images


“Endangered Species 101 — in poetry”
Reviewed by by Jennie Lay, High Country News, September 4, 2006

Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson, father of sociobiology and a relentless biodiversity advocate, once estimated that human gluttony helps exterminate species at the rate of one every 20 minutes. The Dire Elegies laments the plight of North America’s endangered wildlife in poetic detail — but this is more than a disgruntled ode to dying species and their trampled habitat. Inside these artfully hand-stitched pages, 59 poets bind together verbal pictures of encounters with everything from grizzlies to gnatcatchers, framing the moral dilemmas perched at the intersection of species survival and subdivisions.

“Is death by bear to be preferred to death by bomb?” asks Maxine Kumin at the close of “You Are in Bear Country.” Forced to choose between practical advice about meeting Ursus arctos horribilis and the “absurd leaps” one’s mind might make in these “extenuating circumstances,” Kumin chooses the bear.

Simple, concise and poignant notes accompany the verses, melding emotional nostalgia for Texas blind salamanders or California condors with hard scientific, historical and political realities. It’s Endangered Species 101 in poetic form, ranging from habitat threats and scientific breakthroughs to lawsuits and recovery plans.

The Dire Elegies poets include Pulitzer Prize winners as well as college students. The collection begins with the sexiest controversial carnivores and works its way down to bog turtles, beetles and some truly likeable lichen. It’s an irresistible — and enchanting — message of hope for species preservation, and a gift to readers who might usually shy away from poetry.

Proceeds from The Dire Elegies go to the Natural Resources Defense Council Biogems project.

Get your copy:

From the author: Signed copies from the author via email query.