Saturday, April 18, 2015

Environmental Professor and Earth Poet

Howard Horowitz  (photo:

By Edith Carpio

A recent speaker in environmental writing class was Howard Horowitz. Horowitz, a New Yorker, has taught at Ramapo College since 1982. Over the years he has taught physical geography and environmental history. On this Thursday he came in carrying big posters, which I thought were filled with information and statistics on environmental problems like climate change, negative effects of pesticides, etc.

The posters turned out to be his original collection of word maps. Word maps are poems in the shape of the topic of the poems. From his collection Horowitz shared his poems on Manhattan, Oregon, and Idaho. He's currently in the process of working on a word map on the Ramapo River. What stood out about his word maps is the lengths he goes to write them. He only writes them if he is entirely knowledgeable on nearly every detail of the geographical location his poem is about. It is no surprise that his word map of Manhattan was featured in The New York Times in August of 1997. Horowitz's other styles of writing include scientific reports and articles in scientific journals, which makes his passion for poetry more surprising.

"Whitewater" by Howard Horowitz

As Professor Horowitz entered the classroom I was sharing my research assignment with the class. It was on the topic of pesticides which were recently declared as "probably carcinogenic" by the United Nations and the International Agency for Research on Cancer in late March. I did not know much on the topic besides the dangers they pose to the environment. He mentioned that he knew much about pesticides and the problems surrounding them because of his experience in grassroots campaigns and from his time working at the Environmental Protection Agency.

As soon as he mentioned that he worked for/with the EPA, I imagined he was strictly business. Although Professor Horowitz was clearly very educated on most things of the environmental realm, he was not 'strictly business' -- this was proven by his word maps. Horowitz is a full time college professor, but although unknown to his many students he also is a  part time poet. His full time job does not allow him to share his passion for poetry as much as he'd like. He was excited about having the chance to share his poetry with our small class. Along with his word maps, he brought a book that he published, Close to the Ground, a book of tree planting poems.

His nearly silent love for poetry made me wonder about other professors who are secretly talented at other things besides the things they teach. Something they are passionate about that their students would never expect from them. It was extremely refreshing to see a new side of a professor, a side that probably exists in other professors as well.

As a full time college student and part time preschool teacher's assistant who is constantly drowning in stress from assignments, tests, quizzes from professors, it is difficult to think of certain professors as people who aren't just there to teach and test us. Besides providing people with poetry that promotes environmental appreciation and awareness, Professor Horowitz serves as an example for other professors and people in general who should also look to find and pursue their passions.

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