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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Elena Eyre
KC Orcutt (intern)
Pierre Joris and Tomás Urayoán Noel (faculty advisors)