Along the Missouri Flat Creek Restoration project in Pullman, interpretive signs with poetry have recently popped up near Grand Avenue. The signs and the poetry were inspired by 20 plants native to the Palouse.

The Plant Poem Project is the work of a group of Washington State University students, several alumni and Linda Russo, a clinical associate professor of English at WSU and the director of EcoArts on the Palouse.

EcoArts of the Palouse is a group Russo started in 2017 as a way to give students a chance to explore the environment and how humans interact with it. Many of the EcoArts interns come from the WSU English department, but Russo is open to any student who wants to participate.

Russo said it is a program designed “to provide opportunities for our students in editing, publishing, web design and specifically, creative writing … in what I call the wild spaces of the Palouse.”

Russo’s interest on the Plant Poem Project first sprouted when she and Kayla Wakulick, a graduate student at WSU, made presentations at a seminar organized by the WSU art department. Russo was presenting a book of poems she had published. Russo said the two found they had a lot in common, and when Wakulick approached her about adding poetry to interpretive signs, she got students together to work on the project.

“It was in the spring, so we were on Zoom,” Russo said. “And I was lucky to find a group of students who were interested in meeting every week. The students did everything. They researched the plants, we were reading about biology, we were also reading about indigenous approaches to the more-than-human-world concepts of reciprocity, and they were just learning and taking all the stuff in.”

Wakulich has been involved in the restoration at the creek for seven years and was key in getting the grant for the signs, according to a news release on the College of Arts and Sciences. There are 24 signs in total, one for each poem the students wrote and and four to explain the restoration work happening. The signs were funded through a grant from the Palouse Conservation District for environmental education.

“Somehow we got it (the poems) done by the end of the semester,” Russo said. “So it was really incredible to complete the whole arc of this project.”

The EcoArts website, ecoartsonthepalouse.com, lists key contributors to the Plant Poem Project as WSU English students Aidan Barger, Michael Ceffalo, Arabelle May and Liz Webb, and two WSU alumni, Darcy Greenwood and Travis Greenwood.

The Plant Poem Project is only one of the things EcoArts students are working on. Students with the program have recently created interpretive dances set outside and photography collections of yoga poses in wild spaces. Russo said the group already has projects lined up for the next semester, including a series on reimagining what flowers mean.

Find out more about EcoArts on the Palouse, its mission and its projects here.

Nelson can be reached at knelson@dnews.com.

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