from the introduction to the Literary Inventory of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in Spiral Orb
This fifteenth issue of Spiral Orb features the Literary Inventory of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. It gathers more than fifty contributors who have written poems or prose addressed to species who live in the region of southern New Mexico in and around the new monument, which was established by President Obama in 2014.
This project extends the form that I introduced with the 2011 “Poetic Inventory of Saguaro National Park,” in Spiral Orb five. That issue eventually led to the book The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide and has also inspired similar book projects in other regions, including The Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park and A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia. I am very happy that this form has been taken up by others and that it is finding its own unique expressions in multiple bioregions.
As I recently moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico to take a position in the Department of Geography at New Mexico State University (NMSU), I have approached this Literary Inventory of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a means for me to begin to get to know the community here—both the human and the more-than-human communities. As a geographer, I think of this project as a public geohumanities project, a multi-vocal expression and gathering of how a human community knows, gets to know, and represents the other species with whom they share this place. The species addressed in poetry and prose here are not, of course, a full inventory of all the species who call this region and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks home. The title of “inventory” refers to the project’s connection with “bioblitzes,” which are events that entail the inventorying of species, often involving the public as citizen scientists. The idea of a “literary inventory” plays off of this citizen science approach with a community-based literary and creative writing approach.
As the world is faced with mass species extinctions, accelerated climate change, and connected cultural and social challenges, literature and the arts have a key role to play in both representing the current state of things, and in practicing and imagining other ways forward. In the introduction to the Poetic Inventory of Saguaro National Park, I wrote, “No species exists separate from other species; unfortunately, our species is very slow at realizing this and it is getting late for biodiversity here in the Anthropocene. In other words, when addressing other species we’re really addressing ourselves, and we need addressing.” Overall, my current sentiments remain the same as they did when I wrote that introduction almost a decade ago; however, I also recognize the limits to species-thinking. Lumping all humans into one monolithic category negates the differences that exist across human expression, whether expressed in poems, prose, artwork, or entwined in categories such as culture, society, economy, and politics. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the dominant socio-cultural-economic systems—those that mistakenly and perilously render the diversity of life as expendable—are what need addressing, rather than all humans. In any case, I hope that you’ll engage with this most recent “literary inventory” as a place-based expression of empathy across species, a multi-species poetic ecology.
Thank you to all of the contributors. Many others also contributed time and expertise to supporting this project; in particular, I would like to give a shout-out of thanks to Daniella Barraza and Eileen Davis from the Bureau of Land Management, Brenda Gallegos and Patrick Nolan from the Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, and Abby Boylan from the NMSU Department of Geography. I would also like to thank the Southwest and Border Cultures Institute at NMSU for support.