Nature’s Olympics offers concise poems about the natural world. Approaching nature through her perspective as a Jewish feminist in the Midwest, Janet Ruth Heller describes plants, trees, animals, and birds both in the wilderness and in cities. Nature inspires, comforts, excites, and surprises people no matter where they live. Nature also reminds humans of past experiences and ties people together. The poems here use many forms including haiku, tanka, sonnets and free verse. Organized by the seasons, the poems give readers insight into human life.


Janet Ruth Heller has spent decades as a college professor and is President of the Michigan College English Association. She has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and has taught literature, creative writing, women’s studies, linguistics, and composition at eight colleges and universities, including Michigan State University, Albion College, Western Michigan University, and the University of Chicago. She is also a founder and former editor of Primavera, an award-winning literary magazine, and a past president of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.

Her four published books of poetry include: Nature’s Olympics (Wipf and Stock, 2021), Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011). One of her plays, Pledging, was performed at Triton College in Illinois as part of the Tritonysia Play Festival in 2017. Another, The Cell Phone, won fourth place in a national contest and was performed at the Fenton Village Players One-Act Play Festival in Fenton, Michigan (2011). Heller’s creative nonfiction works include “Returning to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin” (Midwestern Miscellany, 2008), “A Visit to Isle Royale” (Toho Journal, 2021 and Michigan Public Radio, 1999), and the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990).

Heller’s fiction picture book about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 6th edition 2018), has received many awards, including a Children’s Choices selection (2007), a Benjamin Franklin Award (2007), a Book Sense Pick (2006), and a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards (2007). She has also published The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015, 2016), a middle-grade fiction chapter book for children.

Beyond writing, Heller is a founder of the Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin. She also co-founded the Professional Instructors Organization union at Western Michigan University, served on the women’s advisory board for the public television station WGVU in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is the past president of the Ladies’ Library Association in Kalamazoo, a charitable nonprofit organization devoted to literacy, education, the arts, and culture.


  • Pandemic Poetry: What is it and why is it needed as a form of therapy during these stressful times?
  • How research about Native American culture has influenced her view of nature
  • A Jewish, feminist perspective with some politically progressive topics
  • Advice for adults and children who want to take up creative writing
  • Accessibility: Janet writes understandable poetry for everyone to enjoy rather than only for scholars
  • What makes a poem effective?
  • How nature affects people and how bird- and animal-watching adds to life
  • Lifetime Interest Project: Poems date from her undergraduate years to 2021
  • Poems reflect on both the beauty of nature and important issues, often suppressed by society
  • Other writers who have influenced her work
  • Why she enjoys writing haiku and tanka
  • How her teachers and her time spent teaching influenced her writing


“In Nature’s Olympics, Janet Ruth Heller captures the brilliance of the natural world—much of which we take for granted—with her clear, sharp imagery and subtle nuance. She reminds us to pay attention, from season to season, and stop in wonder and awe to both appreciate the complex beauty we are surrounded by and to think about our human connections to those cycles and seasons. An excellent writer of haiku, Heller uses the characteristic juxtaposition and insight in all of these fine poems.” —Jim Daniels, author of Gun/Shy, The Middle Ages, Street Calligraphy, Places/Everyone, Rowing Inland, The Perp Walk, and Eight Mile High

“In this collection of quiet poems, Janet Ruth Heller pulls back her curtains each morning, steps out into the world and begins recording all that she witnesses. She is paying attention, giving us details others might overlook. She chronicles sparrows in a puddle that ‘carouse like drunks,’ ‘a million tiny parachutes’ that drift from the cottonwood, and snow that blows into ‘giant egg whites / whipped stiff by the wind.’ With keenly precise vision, Heller ponders those moments in the natural world that cannot be fully held onto, but which shouldn’t be forgotten.” —Gail Martin, author of Begin Empty-Handed, The Hourglass Heart, and Disappearing Queen

“In Nature’s Olympics, the lyric and the narrative, experience and observation dance with one another, change partners, recombine. A gravesite, a canoe in a storm, a luncheon, unroll as if in real time; a few pages later, in stunning haikus, Heller distills a sickle moon, some finches, a doe to their sharpest lyrical moment, to the purely present. Throughout, she enables us to experience what is present, what is past, through the lens of her unique consciousness. In Nature’s Olympics, Janet Ruth Heller claims her poetic place at the intersection of memory and the vivid now.” —Susan Blackwell Ramsey, author of A Mind Like This