“It isn’t true that Nature is mute.”, says Italian poet Eugenio Montale.

While Spanish poet Antonio Machado writes, “Wake up as much as possible.”

Literally or figuratively, take it whichever way you want. Poetry is open to as many interpretations as possible anyway. But for all of us who have have experienced awe and wonder when in nature, the poetic experience becomes more real and shared.

This is what Brooklyn-based artist Jon Cotner successfully creates in his project, Poem Forest. Set in the lush backdrop of New York Botanical Gardens, participants undertake a self-guided walk through an old-growth forest, reciting 15 lines from 2500 years of poetry from around the globe, including US, Chile, China, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden.

The overwhelming message was that the poetic lines encouraged everyone to slow down, to see and sense more clearly, to inhabit the present more deeply, and to fill with enchantment.

“It isn’t true that Nature is mute” —Eugenio Montale

“The nature of yesterday/ Is not nature./ What has been, is nothing” —Fernando Pessoa

“Robins, starlings, wrens, warblers/ they pay no rent” —Bernadette Mayer

“Waterfalls, with a sound/ Like rain” —Ch’u Ch’uang I

Jon Cotner describes his vision for Poem Forest:

“I’ve always felt that poetry is not an art object to be idly studied. Rather, it’s a way of life, a mode of knowing—a call to become more attentive and active. Koreans have an important proverb: “Knows his way, stops seeing.” Spanish poet Antonio Machado responds to this existential blur by advising us to “wake up as much as possible.” And before him, near the very beginnings of Greek philosophy (that moment when philosophy and poetry were still linked), Heraclitus said: “We share a world when we are awake; each sleeper is in a world of his own.”

Here’s a 72-second audio piece that features Poem Forest participants reading their favorite lines. Together the voices make a single poem inviting us to enter a path with no foreseeable end. Poem Forest is one possible beginning, a reminder to keep going.

Poem Forest by Jon Cotner

To learn more about Jon Cotner and Poem Forest, read BMW Guggenheim Lab’s “Poem Forest: An Audiovisual Tour”.