The Confluence of Nature and Art


story by Brian Connors Manke
photos by Shaun Ring

“For me, to stand at the confluence of two streams of flowing water, no matter how small, is a moment of feeling integrated. To be in one of those sweet spots in nature silences you – standing there in awe, there is nothing to say.”

Gurney Norman understands the delicate beauty of awe – but as Kentucky’s new Poet Laureate, the longtime teacher, outdoorsman and, of course, writer, has always been drawn to sharing his lifelong meditations of nature into words.

Norman’s relationship with the Kentucky landscape, and in particular, the flowing waters that dance, carve, rush or just mosey along, are embedded in his consciousness from his childhood play in the creeks and along the riverbanks near Hazard, in Eastern Kentucky.

“When I was a kid, in the 1940s, in the summer time, local people would bring their quilts and picnic baskets and spend the afternoon on the riverbank and in the water. There were many sandy beaches along the Kentucky River in those days. It was a picture of health – a healthy river, a healthy social community. People ate the fish they caught. Coal mining in those days caused very little damage to the water.”

Decades later, the destruction to Eastern Kentucky’s waterways has mounted. “You accept the damage to nature as tragic but you must not let that immobilize you,” Norman said. His work and teaching over the years crystallizes that fact. “There are so many ways to be creative – including public activism, political effort, and the work that artists of all kinds do.”

Branch to creek, creek to stream and stream to river, Norman will continue to follow the indefinable paths of the water in awe – and occasionally when the moment is right, he’ll put it into words.

Ancient Creek

The water is amber-colored now.
I see minnows in it, I see a perch
swim by, I see brilliant pebbles
on the bottom, and green waving
grass. I see a sandbar reaching
out from shore, my feet sink into
it. Planted there, I rise from the
water like a tree, a flowering
shrub with gnarled branches,
thick with leaves and blossoms,
white as clouds, moist with the
dew of a brand new April

© Gurney Norman

KET documentaries written and presented by Gurney Norman – produced/directed by John Morgan

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