ISSUE 4 EDITORIAL

This issue started with the question: what is the role of poetry in anguished times? Given recent developments in our ecosystem, such as the imminent collapse of Arctic sea ice, we ask poetry to “act” in a fragile world.  Our questions about the praxis of ecopoetry generated a rich and diverse range of responses, both critical and creative, that comprise our issue.  In the spirit of ecopoetics, a strongly interdisciplinary field, writers in our journal cut across the borders of feminism, philosophy, biology, and politics to interrogate practices of representation and domains of power.  Ecopoetries, unlike certain forms of nature writing, tend to undermine the category of the natural and disrupt a pastoral or Romantic ideal of Nature as pure and unmediated by our own interventions.

Ecology has been envisioned within a dangerously egocentric context, within compulsive processes of thought conditioned by views of subjecthood that we no longer find useful. Ecopoectics examines the space in which writing occurs, in order to dislocate the writer from the influence of those aspects of her “nature” that are constructed by rhetorical strategies which seek to standardize writing, in an attempt to exclude the poor and uneducated from conversations that further shape life in society. Ecopoetics seeks to illustrate assumptions that innervate many of our harmful practices by asking: how have we defined what is natural so as to make it more compatible with the value systems in which we’ve become so deeply entrenched? It seeks to dislodge us from our morbid fixation on notions of “pure” and “untouched” nature, so that we may effectively reexamine how such terms function and how they’ve been intended to serve us.

Textuality itself can be used to challenge our ecological assumptions and ask us to consider aesthetic and critical projects within a new ecological vocabulary. In ecopoetics the notion of textual economy is often addressed. The old motto, reduce, reuse, and recycle becomes a working model for composition, in which new modes of writing are explored through the applying of generative constraint to existing bodies of text. James Sherry discusses this idea in his essay “Practical Applications,” included in this issue: “In the environmental model we need a concept of art that accepts uncertainty but pursues the reincorporation of poetry into the larger society.” Procedural works may satisfy both of these conditions by intervening where composition is normally guided by authorial decisions thus limiting the presence of the ego in writing. In this sense, ecopoetics entails an act of return—the turning over of truth and knowledge piled in mounds of discarded material, and the revisiting of historical sites of trauma. Such writing may provide a critique of the aesthetic and moral principles underlying our present way of life.

Any ecopoetics is compelled to respond to the finitude of life. In this issue, many of our contributors address the elegiac imperatives of ecopoetry, which may be read as an elegy for place, or the eco-, the origin of which exists in the Greek word oikos, meaning home or dwelling place.  In the “Elegy of Ecopoetics,” Marcella Durand asks, “Can poetry enter this unspeakable space of mourning, and how to mourn that which we hardly knew? Because after all, ecology, we hardly know ye, even though you are also us… We ourselves are the wilderness destroying the very systems of which we are a part, in a role we utterly do not understand.”  Ecopoetry may not offer consolation for loss, but instead recalls us to the ethical questions posed by the interdependency of life.

In her own ecopoetics, Jill Magi acknowledges the imminence of a post-apocalyptic future, but envisions our mutual vulnerability as integral to the possibility of a transformative metaphysics:  “Can poetry help us grasp our impermanence? I hope so. Geologists imagine the existence of the human race as just one crease in the palm of your hand compared to the vast timeline of the earth made by spreading your arms out side to side like wings. If we are not afraid of death—our own extinction—can we than focus more on the way we live life at the moment?”  And what are the political implications of ecopoetics?  How might grief make palpable the limits of national communities and enlarge the individual’s capacity to perceive the contingencies and conditions upon which relations between the self and community rest?

Jil Hanifan’s ecopoetry plays with and displaces a lyrical, meditative tradition of nature writing.  In “three august hymns,” she writes,  “a small grasshopper springs to my hand/ and clings/armor plated and daring as a hero. last summer there were none/the spent lilies have withered/into tangles and dessicated/claws.  two monarchs/hang around the butterfly bush/they are silent/and like distance or mountains/are moving.”  Climate change has deadened the land, yet the immanence and spontaneity of organic life persists.

Sarah Giragosian and Chad Lowther, Co-Editors

Tomás Urayoán Noel (Faculty Advisor)

Co-Editors: Chad Lowther and Sarah Giragosian

Editorial Committee: Amanda Boyd, Kristen Fay, Jesse Newman

 

Former Editorial Committee

Editorial committee: barzakhmagazine@gmail.com

Anna Elena Eyre

James Belflower

Sarah Giragosian

KC Orcutt (intern)

Pierre Joris and Tomás Urayoán Noel (faculty advisors)

Marcella Durand: Poetry

Bring to Bear

Bring to bear a platter of assorted delicacies strewn

from tailings and debris: these could be alluvial fan

deposits or remnants of mountaintop removal. No

berries, and no cheetos, either. To the problem, bring

solutions—directives, admonishments, chastising,

pleading. If necessary, make yourself 5x larger than

yourself and shout—gather the noise bouncing

about inside, merge the sound molecules

through stomach, diaphragm, pathways of your

lungs, to narrowing esophagus, mouth, teeth, and

tongue tunnels. Be aggressive. Shout. Fight, with

machines, to save nature. When that fails, luxuriate

in broken concrete and jackhammers, the beauty

of the cacophony, the disjunctions of plastic and rock,

gas hissing from shale, rainbow sheens on water, the

automobile carapaces, the radioactivity, corn grown

in row upon row upon identical row, waving, tassels,

greenly, in the gentle winds of the topographic

slopes, pre-harvest. Blurred shapes at the cave

entrances. Blurred shapes at the roots.

***

Bear Safety Lecture Interrupted by Bear

The interlocutor interrupts via hair and intent to

translate visages, to reformat questionable sourcing

as a sculpture recognizable in bits and parts, each

scouring of hands against medium to discover real

furry fear swinging out of forest toward garbage

can collection and car trunks, placed tumbled

versus elevation of tents and canisters. Figure

is maybe parental at this point; or could be scholar—

there are positions to be assumed in this interstice of

where one communication drones and another

language insists. Translator or bridge? Division

Or path? Looking toward where the unknown

begins, efforts to discern patterns will be ongoing.

Antony and the Johnsons

THE ECOLOGICAL ETHIC OF ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS

Sarah Giragosian

Since the release of “The Crying Light“, which has been followed by his most recent album “Cut the World,” Antony Hegarty’s music has been rooted in the ecological.   “Cut the World,” a live symphonic performance that reinterprets and reprises songs from Antony and the Johnsons’ four albums, “I am a Bird Now,” “Swanlights,” “The Crying Light” and “S/T,” introduces Hegarty’s radical ecological and feminist ethic, which is explicitly addressed in his track “Future Feminism.”  The collection contextualizes his political vision and argues for “feminist systems of governance” that would sanction a sustainable relationship with the earth.

Disavowing institutional and epistemological forms of patriarchal oppression, Hegarty is invested in the interrelatedness of processes of domination that configure our relationship to the earth and one another.  His work stresses the interrelation between ecological destruction and forms of sexism, which patriarchal systems condone. He also maps interrelations between organic processes and our own corporeal realities, dissolving artificial boundaries that patriarchal religions impose between us and the world:

I’ve been searching and searching for that little bit of my constitution that isn’t of this place and I still haven’t found it. Every atom of me, every element of me seems to resonate, seems to reflect the great world around me. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is God’s best idea — that this manifest world is the frontier of his dream, or her dream in my opinion. So, that’s just my point of view from where I can start to establish a new way to value the world that I’m a part of.

While ecofeminism and the feminization of nature are often charged as being essentialist, Hegarty’s vision for a future politics is not naïve or reductive.  Women have long been associated with the natural realm, and as Hegarty discusses, the domination of women and nature are historically interlinked.  However, he does not uncritically feminize nature or argue that women have a more privileged epistemological or ontological vantage into the natural world.  Moreover, as a transgendered and queer individual, Hegarty identifies the transness of the natural world or the ways that life cuts across categorical boundaries.  Queerness, as a challenge to normative ways of sense-making, instead can offer a point of resistance, disrupting the categorical logic of identity, which can impose strictures on not only on sexuality, but also humanness itself.

Hegarty’s ethic, both posthumanist and queer, challenges the ontological stability of the category of human and posits an essential intersectionality among all beings.  In the same collection, he reprises “Another World” a song that mourns the loss of our ecosystem in tones wistful and wounded:

I need another place

Will there be peace

I need another world

This one’s nearly gone

Still have too many dreams

Never seen the light

I need another world

A place where I can go

I’m gonna miss the sea

I’m gonna miss the snow

I’m gonna miss the bees

I miss the things that grow

I’m gonna miss the trees

I’m gonna miss the sun

I miss the animals

I’m gonna miss you all

I need another place

Will there be peace

I need another world

This one’s nearly gone

I’m gonna miss the birds

Singing all their songs

I’m gonna miss the wind

Been kissing me so long

Another world

Another world

Another world

Another world

When I listen to this song, I am struck by the emotive power of abstraction in what is essentially an elegy for place, or the eco-, the origin of which exists in the Greek word oikos, meaning home or dwelling place.   In a poem that avoids particularity, Hegarty’s lyric recounts an ongoing search for home, not just a metaphysical or metaphorical dwelling, but also a literal home in a world facing the imminence of ecological catastrophe.  Rather than privatize his experience of the natural world and potentially foreclose the common, sensual encounters we all have with the world around us, he privileges the general.  While the desire to be at home with one’s environment may be said to underlie the lyrical impulse, this desire is strained, tested, and reconstituted by the fact that the possibility of being at home in our ecosystem is under threat.

With his staggering ardor, Hegarty mourns the loss of the common: the birds, the wind, the animals.   Accompanied by sounds suggestive of whale song, his voice, at times operatic, vulnerable, and plaintive, is intensely somatic, evoking the corporeal ordeals of pain and ravishment.  With his quavering falsetto and accent on the somatic dimension of language, he reminds us of the vulnerability that all bodies share. “Another World” evokes the commonality shared by all bodies that are face-to-face with their finitude.  The birds, the wind, and the body are all sensually, vitally related.

As an ecopoetics, the song is an appeal to the recognition of our own vulnerability in a fragile world and an expression of grief for the beings and forces around us.  Hegarty’s language of the general and the common produces vibrations of meanings that are not transcendentalized, but rather remain physical, corporeal: “I’m gonna miss the wind/ Been kissing me so long.”  The song solicits us to imagine an asylum from our own world, even while our own beings are constituted by the natural world that surrounds us.  The unstable status of the ecology threatens the empirical world, as well as the sensuous material that contributes to the speaker’s auto-affection.  Feeling, as a sensual, affective, and aesthetic zone, is under threat.  For Hegarty, the ecological is deeply connected to feeling—feeling not only the dynamic and organic processes of life, but being in tune with the consciousness-heightening, life-affirming experience of feeling oneself feel.

However, even as an elegy for our world, “Another World,” does not end with an ontological impasse.  In our ongoing, mutual states of becoming, a theme and ethos that pervades other songs, such as his “Cripple and the Starfish” (a song about regeneration and transformation), “Another World” acknowledges the possibility of our own reconstitution. Such songs unsettle the violent ramifications of conceptualizations of discrete identity, which have contributed to a climate of hostility towards those in the margins throughout history. To conceive of a future habitation in another world is also to affirm the possibility of our own transformation.

Watch “Another World”

Jim Leftwich

(“HAMMER-ENCOUNTER,” WE MIGHT CALL IT) by Jim Leftwich

1.

This is a professional “Garde Manager”
garnishing kit. The kit contains a peeler,
zester, channel knife, citrus knife,
butter curler, corer and a double-headed melon baller.
All of the pieces are stored in a black canvas
vinyl carry case to protect them. The tools are
excellent for carving and sculpting fruit, vegetables,
chocolate, sugar and pasteries.

Jill Magi

SIX NOTES FOR CADASTRAL MAP AND “A CURRICULUM FOR BOYS: A VIDEO POEM”

By Jill Magi

1. Cadastral Map came out of a desire to reinsert people into the landscape and eco-discourses because I think environmentalism and conservation erases them, especially the poor and working class.

2. I am wary of writing that celebrates the beauty of nature or pits “city” against “country.” Nature and beauty, city versus country: constructs often at the service of power. The irony of land conservation/beautification efforts and the absence of policies aimed to help those who live there. The poem “A Curriculum for Boys: A Video Poem” is about this.

3. “A Curriculum for Boys” features the notebooks of James Taylor, a turn-of-the-century Vermont progressive who established the lasting notion of Vermont as “playground” for the wealthy.

4. Can poetry help us grasp our impermanence? I hope so. Geologists imagine the existence of the human race as just one crease in the palm of your hand compared to the vast timeline of the earth made by spreading your arms out side to side like wings. If we are not afraid of death—our own extinction—can we than focus more on the way we live life at the moment? Would this open up channels of empathy, sacrifice, and a concern not just for progeny but all children?

5. As a child, I walked the aisle of our New Jersey drug store and one day was overcome with the feeling that American Indians had walked on this exact tract of land. I went down vertically, sensing the tiles beneath my feet, the concrete under the tiles, and then the earth and leaves, perhaps pressed into a path, beneath. North American land as palimpsest. Also, eastern forests in this country as historical hiding places and routes for escaped slaves. How do you feel in the woods? Certain cellular memories: a map. On another day I unearthed an arrowhead from a freshly plowed cornfield. I set this arrowhead to rest up against the spine of my childhood books.

6. “Still, I crave a walk in the woods. Poetry meanders its way away from this essay—and toward The Psalms: ‘I look unto the hills from whence cometh my help.’” These are sentences from the ending essay in Cadastral Map. I feel this ecopoetics: “At every turn, degrees of legibility, a focus that comes in and out, position-depending. Don’t look away. Listen, there is history. Earth and bones beneath your map give weight back with each authoring step.”

mIEKAL aND, Maria Damon, Camille Bacos: The End

from THE END

by mIEKAL aND & Maria Damon
photography by Camille Bacos

They continued to live in the house many years after it collapsed. The real secret was how to get inside without disturbing the unbelievable fungus colonizing the exterior. Many secrets, in fact, were encouraged to take root amid decaying crevices in hopes that they might multiply and eventually yield clues from beyond the veil.

Rain down on me, bright lichen, and bring a bright message from the angels of the lyre. There was singing from the bone-harp and thrumming from the finger-twigs, and by and by the house itself shimmied to the sweet strains of the Little Girls’ Spiritual Choir.

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