Sunday, September 4, 2022


How shall we live? Turning to the natural world

The cover of tender gravity with a drawing of a field with flowers and mountains
The cover of tender gravity
A photo of sliding rock in Asheville, North Carolina with two people sliding down the rock
Sliding Rock in Asheville, NC. Photo credit: Forest Service, USDA, Flickr
A photo of Marybeth kayaking in Alaska with a forest in the background
Marybeth kayaking through Alaska. Photo credit: Marybeth Holleman
A hermit thrush standing on a branch
A hermit thrush standing on a branch. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 31, 2022


I'm happy to announce my forthcoming debut poetry collection, tender gravity.

And I'm honored to have such amazing poets provide this ADVANCE PRAISE ---

“Holleman writes with the crystalline clarity of the north that is her home. In the company of humpbacks, ravens, moon jellies, and sphagnum, she seeks consolations that serve as antidote to the otherwise intolerable grief and violence of the human world. ‘We want the vast / to cleanse transgressions we carry,’ she writes, and that desire illuminates these poems.”

—Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Stairway to Heaven

“Such intimate knowledge of place tethers the ecopoetry of Marybeth Holleman’s tender gravity to the land and seas around her home in Anchorage, Alaska. There is sorrow in these poems—for a murdered brother who is remembered in the haunting lines of “the warm dark,” and for all the oil spills, global warming, the vanishing species—but also serenity and a piercing love. The poems’ longing for enlightenment is fulfilled not through renunciation but through closer and closer attention to the actual light “that breathes wide // up mountainside to ridgeline across alpine field studded with lichen-red rocks,” the “light / glinting off cobalt pool,” the “light mediating fields awash in tasseled grass / to burn luminous amber.” This is a beautiful book.”

—Ann Fisher-Wirth, author of The Bones of Winter Birds

“Stand on your 52 / bones” and allow these poems to call you into connection with the world. tender gravity expands the beautiful, necessary work of writers doing healing and challenging our disconnection from the nonhuman. Marybeth Holleman’s poems, in particular, draw strength from her longtime home in Alaska. That deep, place-based connection allows us to live and look a while with her at her world in a deeper, more nuanced way. “I apologize to the god of words / but the god of dirt calls to me,” she writes as she grapples with ecological losses (climate change, the long and brutal aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill) and personal losses (a murdered brother, one’s own younger selves as the years move on). Perhaps the urgent hope of tender gravity is best encapsulated by the poem “With,” where the refrain of connection intensifies, connecting everything—beings and moments and memories we live with—which is, indeed, what happens when we truly allow ourselves to be open to the world.

—Elizabeth Bradfield, author of Toward Antarctica

“Marybeth Holleman’s tender gravity is a thoroughly absorbing collection whose poems range from personal epiphanies to works with larger philosophical implications. They cover a wide range of emotions, including grief for a murdered brother and celebrations of the beauties and consolations of nature. Some of the poems are reminiscent of the work of the wonderful nature poet Mary Oliver, and at least one is Whitman-like in its expansiveness.”

—John Morgan, author of The Moving Out

The poems in tender gravity by Marybeth Holleman are truly gems, beautifully honed to cast and reflect the inner and outer light of her subjects. Many of her poems reveal and enhance details of the skies and seas, lands, mountains, flora, and fauna of our most northern State: “Whales at Night,” “The Fantastic Skies of the Orphan Stars,” “How to Grieve a Glacier.” Her words and their cadences also offer new perspectives on experiences in our daily lives: “Yesterday on a Familiar Trail,” “The Remembered Earth,” and many more. Holleman’s book is a remarkable treasure.

—Pattiann Rogers, author of Quickening Fields

“What if / you could hold/ forty times/ your weight / in love?” writes Marybeth Holleman in her poem “Sphagnum,” which lingers, exploring the marvels of moss. As well as delighting in its attention to its subject, the poem also turns on its willingness to find in this rich green sponge some guidance for how to live a human life as well. tender gravity is full of moments like this, which fathom happiness among sundews and simultaneously mourn and delight in melting glaciers. Holleman looks carefully for her teachers in unexpected places: one poem speaks of a dead wolf left to brine in cold water for a season, then brought up so that we can admire the skull. Among Holleman’s teachers—wolf skull, sundew, glacier, and moss—is also loss itself, her own process of fathoming the murder of her brother. As these poems move through a big Alaskan landscape and also bend in attention to grief, they seek and find temporary refuge “in the variations in / the beat of a heart.” “Every wisdom slips away / as soon as I try to name it,” Holleman says, but what slips also shimmers, caressed in Holleman’s keen attentions. tender gravity is a book of hunger, and of restoration.

—Tess Taylor, author of Rift Zone

Monday, July 6, 2020

Poetics for the More-Than-Human World

I'm happy to have my poem, "with," included in this amazing new anthology, Poetics for the More-Than-Human World: An Anthology of Poetry and Commentary

It's an impressive collection, including such luminaries as Jane HirshfieldRae ArmantroutMei-mei BerssenbruggeRachel Blau DuPlessis, and Arthur Sze
I'm thrilled and humbled to be in such great company.

The entire collection is available now, online, and will appear in paperback this fall.

We're doing a series of Zoom talks/readings every Thursday, 4pm ET. You can register to attend these readings on Eventbrite hereI'll be reading July 30th.

My contribution, "with," brims with the array of my relations with more-than-humans, like this red squirrel. You can read the full poem here.

During this Anthropause, it's heartening to remind ourselves of the more-than-human world and their vital, irrepressible thrumming among us.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

DH Lawrence: what a catastrophe

            Winter Solstice, Turnagain Arm, Alaska.

Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a personal, merely personal 
feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of 
the solstice and equinox. This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots, because we
are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom,
we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized 
vase on the table.

                                                                                                                                         ~ D.H. Lawrence

Saturday, October 19, 2019

What We Talk About When We Talk About Wilderness

Iceberg viewpoint, Tracy Bar

Iceberg Viewpoint, Tracy Bar, Tracy Arm Ford's Terror Wilderness, Tongass National Forest.

It's October, and my summertime wilderness adventures are behind me. Now I sit with my photographs and journals and memories, and find what the wilderness has given to me, feel how the wilderness has changed me, and always for the better.

Several years ago, I had the great opportunity, as part of the Voices of the Wilderness Program, to accompany wilderness rangers in the Tracy Arm Ford's Terror Wilderness of the Tongass National Forest. 

Just this last year, my essay from that extraordinary trip was published in the fine journal, Minding Nature, the journal for the Center for Humans and Nature

I'm grateful it's also online, so you can read it here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Mary Oliver: The Chance to Love Everything

Mary Oliver was not just an American poet; she was an American prophet. She was not only one of the most popular poets in American literary history; she wrote in the same vein as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman about the world, and humanity’s place in it.

Like a modern-day Emily Dickinson, she rarely traveled far from home. When she did, she hardly wrote about it. No, poem after poem grew from the minute and endlessly fascinating forests and seashores of her home in Cape Cod. She wrote again and again about the black snake, the snapping turtle, the wild roses, the surging sea. Each time, she brought us new insight into our own world.

I speak in broad strokes. But her poetry means so much to me, and has for a very long time. I didn’t appreciate poetry until I read her work. I rarely read it, hardly understood it. Mary Oliver’s poems opened me to all poetry. Through hers I began to read others, and now my shelves burst with poetry books and my head is aswirl in poems I’ve memorized and I find myself writing poetry.

The beauty of Oliver’s work is many-fold. It is accessible: many who read her poems would not otherwise read poetry at all. It is rooted in the classics: she once said that she found her two true loves early in life: nature and dead poets. Steeped in the classics and roaming the world beyond humans, she found truths that resonate deeply.

Many poets and critics express disdain for her work, but the form of poetry is wide, and large enough to hold it all. Her poems, like Dickenson and Whitman before her, reach multitudes; her tribe is vast and varied.

I first heard her poems at an Audubon camp on an island off the coast of Maine. I was in college; I had gotten a scholarship to attend the camp for teachers and writers; I was a nascient environmental writer inspired by Edward Abbey and Rachel Carson. One night around the fire, a camp instructor recited “Wild Geese.” Like him, I memorized it.

Years later, at a writer’s conference in Montana, a group of us spontaneously recited that poem together. What joy: that “You do not have to be good.” That “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” That “the world offers itself to your imagination, over and over announcing your place...”

The thing is, in her I found someone who loved the more-than-human world the way I do: deeply and fully, with an unabashedly fierce allegiance, and with no assumption of human superiority. With, in fact, quite the opposite: her poems remind us that the more-than-human world has much to teach us. She was the willing supplicant, the monk wandering the fields and shores all day to listen and transcribe.

Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about
spiritual patience?
                ~ Landscape

A poet that titles a book What Do we Know has realized this essential truth: that we humans do not know very much at all, though we act as if we know it all. That this hubris is our downfall, and with it, much of the wild and wonderful world. But though she did not avoid the sorrows, she continuously sang the songs of praise for the world that is.

Her poems are an integral part of my life. I read “The Sun” aloud to my family every summer solstice. “The Chance to Love Everything” hangs on my wall joined to a crayon image of the Earth my son drew when he was seven. Lines ring in my head:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
~The Summer Day

such wild love—
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
gone crazy
for power, for things?
~ The Sun

For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then

the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life/ too much,” it said,

and vanished
into the world.
~ One or Two Things

When Mary Oliver died on January 17, through my grief I felt gratitude. I am grateful that I found her poetry. Grateful to all the editors and publishers who let her work out into the world. Grateful that she wrote them, day after day, walking the woods and the dark ponds and then sitting at her desk, so that they could find their way to me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The current issue of Canarya literary journal of the environmental crisis, contains two of my poems. Here's one:

Whales at Night
by Marybeth Holleman
they come
after the day’s
fishing fleet
has gone to anchor
awaken us
with a sigh
that sounds human
but is whale-breath
the long exhale
after a deep dive
sprays dappling
concentric rings
left by their arcs
into air
on an otherwise
silent and glassy