Hear the River Dammed, Poems from the Edge of the Mississippi

Cole W. Williams is an author, poet and biology lover. A woman from the Midwest writing about topics to inspire people to engage with their surroundings. Each thing she writes, she takes care to include learning sections or resources to further understanding on the topic. Recently she won a Nautilus Award in the Middle Grade category for Non-Ficition. Her other book on biology for kids has also won a couple awards. We have conducted an interview with her.

How long have you been preparing and writing your new book, Hear the River Dammed, Poems from the Edge of the Mississippi?

Hear the River Dammed was written over one year from June 2015 to June 2016. I wrote about the Mississippi River every two to three days. I wished to develop my voice, to experiment with different poetic styles and to concentrate my studies on one subject. On a deeper level, I sought out to break the barrier between myself and the river and try to slow things down, so I could look at her with new eyes. (Some of my writing refers to the river as ‘she’ and ‘her’ and I don’t exactly know why except that maybe I was a tugboat captain in many previous lives.) I would honestly say that I began timidly, but near the end of the year I didn't want to stop writing river odes and I hit a stride. This writing adventure allowed me to look back at interesting trends. As I dated each poem, I was able to see what months and seasons I was most productive and inspired, and what times of the year I struggled. Now I know when to take my vacation from writing--around February, no surprise there! After I completed the collection I contemplated my next move in authorship. There was a well of questions building within me that I struggled to answer on my own. Having a writing mentor/project manager ended up accentuating my creativity and thirst for knowledge in the keenest way--I signed on with Beaver’s Pond Press in the Fall of 2016 and we have been developing the book since.

Why is it important to write about water conservation? What do you think is the future demand of water?

Many think the topic of the future will be water resources, as the world increasingly is stressed for this resource. I tend to view water as the linchpin of earthly topics. By its inherent and actual nature, water lends itself to the care and awareness of other communities revolving around and in it. My quest for river knowledge has naturally extended to habitat restoration, urban and agricultural land development, food resources, animal communities, invasive species management and legal issues pertaining to land rights and conservation bills.

Water is ubiquitous, everyone goes to the water, whether they are cognizant of their visit is another affair. I used to take the river for granted and was not connected. I could not understand what was special about it, because I used to not even think about it. This is what we need to battle! Treasure, treasure, treasure I would whisper in my mind but I didn’t know how to tap in as I say in my book. I had to write about it, I had to teach myself about it, I had to work for it and get out and on the river. Something magical happens when you throw your TV away and commit to engaging the earth instead—but it takes a while.

The Mississippi River works hard for our communities on so many different levels. The ambivalent mindset that states the river is fine and is clean enough or that the river is destroyed and hopeless are both obsolete. Water needs to be a cherished part of our lifestyle and culture--a place that isn't divisive or polarizing; something everyone can get behind and weave into their daily lives. It can be a positive effort and it can look different for each person. There is not just one way to help—bring your lifestyle and character to the table. Be your own local hero. Gifts with little personal cost that we can all give are awareness, initiative and pressure to suppress our own inner ambivalence.

How important are the community and building connections?

Everything. It is everything. I could go down to the river and write poetry every day and love what I see and ruminate on my thoughts, but that is a solitary road with little impact. I knew I wanted more and could do more, because I like people and am energized by building relationships around water and writing. I challenge myself ceaselessly to sit in that uncomfortable place of exposure and the unknown to do more and to figure out how best I can contribute while still being me. It took me a long time to be ready to engage, and to figure out how I wanted to engage, and that is why I write at the end of my book that it is okay to start modestly--one effort, one thought of awareness is perfect. Then start searching for involvement that makes you energized.

Which are the highlights about the Mississippi River ecology?

This river is for everyone. Locally it is an all-inclusive, 72-mile national park that runs right through the Twin Cities. This river ecology can be experienced and studied hands on. One of my personal favorites is the American paddlefish also known as the Mississippi paddlefish, a close relative to the sturgeon. Extirpated is a nasty word that describes how the paddlefish is experiencing many local extinctions in certain habitats. I have never seen one but I want to. There are over 100 species of fish in the upper Mississippi River and exploring how to fish this river is adventurous on the constantly changing surface. I love the Cottonwood trees, as do the eagles. Water hyacinth, coyotes, river moss, freshwater mussels, new things, old things and scents to delight and stump the nostrils—it is different every time.

What will be the upcoming events about your new book launch?

This summer I will be working locally with independent booksellers like Moon Palace Books and Lake Country Booksellers for signings and readings. I have a For the River event in St. Louis at Central Print in the first week of July and will be sharing my wares at the Afton Art in the Park in September. My website www.colewwilliams.com will be updated with all the specifics. I am very excited for the connections to the river community I have made and look forward to all the fun, artistic and fantastic events to be a part of. My lofty goal is to do a Mississippi River book tour, possibly divided up into two sections: Itasca to St. Louis one year and St. Louis to the Gulf the next.

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