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Key-stitches: Benjamin Felser ’22 uses poetry to inspire environmental change

May 6, 2022

On Thursday evening, students and faculty gathered in the Roux Center for the Environment for “Key-Stitches: Symbiographies for a Distressed Earth,” Benjamin Felser’s ’22 presentation of their year-long independent study project.

Felser, a biology major concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology who has a passion for literary arts, performed readings of four original poems exploring nature’s complex symbiotic networks, their origins and their vulnerability in a changing environmental landscape. The event was co-sponsored by the English and Biology departments, with Associate Professor of English Hilary Thompson and Professor of Biology and Schiller Coastal Studies Center Director David Carlon serving as faculty advisors on Felser’s project.

Felser’s four poems, entitled “Twinkles at Dawn,” “Ententacled,” “Blossoming” and “Refugia,” each highlight the intricate beauty of ancient ecosystems while urging listeners to rescue them from impending destruction.

“These foundational relationships, these key-stitches, weave together the foundations of our world, and we neglect them at our peril,” Felser said of these ecological networks. “The ivory bones of bleached corals, the brown needles of decaying forests, abandoned by photosymbionts, plants flowering to find no one buzzing to carry on their genes…all foretell what is to become commonplace if we refuse to listen to the intimate relations of all life, including our own.”

When asked why they chose poetry as the medium with which to communicate their message, Felser explained that their goal was to depart from other forms of scientific literature by presenting important information in an emotionally stirring way.

“I feel like some of these stories are just so dramatic, and scientific papers don’t capture that,” Felser said. “I really wanted to challenge myself to synthesize these key ideas and learn to communicate them in a way that helps people feel emotional connection.”

Felser’s works often tap into the deep anxieties of approaching an uncertain environmental future. However, they emphasize that this anxiety should coexist with hope, and that this hope can be found in the very ecosystems that humans can cooperate to protect. This dynamic is the focus of “Refugia.”

“When I find myself lost in these deserts, these open oceans of doubt, when the heatwaves of despair crash over me with every oil spill, every pipeline through indigenous land, every part per million of carbon forced into the atmosphere,… I locate the cumulus clouds hovering over these refugia,” Felser said after reading the poem. “They guide me in their local abundance, make me aware, make me notice. What we pay attention to, we nourish, and what we nourish, grows.”

“Our world is falling,” Felser continued, “but we might stitch together these patchwork connections with our own communities of love, mutual aid, social justice, repair.”

Attendees were enchanted by Felser’s ability to weave together the artistic and the scientific to craft a call to action.

“This felt like a uniquely cool way to gather around something we can all be curious about,” Louise Cummins ’23 said. “I want to talk about [environmental crises] in different ways, and I think it’s way more interesting and inspiring to talk about the possibilities for change.”

“I think Benjamin Felser is a brilliant poet,” Weatherspoon ’25 said. “I think [they] really work to capture the human condition, [and] how it relates to natural life on Earth. I’ve never met anyone more centered and committed to that relationship than [them].”


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One comment:

  1. maggie silverstein says:

    This project shows us a beautiful devotion. Thank heavens that Benjamin Felser is on this planet.

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