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What is more natural: thinking space and poetry

By Sina Queyras

Red Visual

Blue is the more difficult color,
made of mineral blood and fades fast.
The right hue is hard to settle, of blue.
Fragments shift and delineate, light
roams shards, coalesce to fold of cloth.
As hand to light turns blue and red
is nowhere in sight. What unreliable color,
medium carries flowering in.

Unfeminine giant wheels unfold flowering in.
Metal powders as water slopes. Fire pops en
route to opacity: how often returns! Often
indiscernible one from the other. Shards fan
to circle—a hand of acuity. Cyclical tasks
are the ones that grind. Figuring, bills,
numbers, figuring. Halos burn.

Tendons, fascia, calcium accumulation
relay to tangle of cables. Wood item
and extinguishing agent. Where is tree?
Tree sputters and quickens heat, but water
weightier and in weight truer. Fixed
and in a pattern, helix clings to octagon.
Triangle stands itself.

Water vs. fire and water verisimilitude
blue is the more difficult color. When
mineral blood bonds carbon to oxide ring,
helix and upward sky.

–Marcella Durand

SQ: Marcella, thanks for the poem, and for taking a few questions. Let’s start with what you consider eco-criticism, or eco-poetics to be?

MD: It’s debatable to me whether the term “eco-poetics” should be a defining term at all. It’s convenient and catchy, but poetry concerned with ecological issues needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the stream of information and rethinking and renaming that is ongoing around ecology, culture, science at the moment. Ecologically minded poetry may be more interesting, more investigative when there isn’t so much a predetermined manifesto, when it is not congealed into a sort of school with dictums to follow and practitioners. I realize this is rather hypocritical of me to say, since I did lay out a kind of schematics back in 2002 (“The Ecology of Poetry”), but I did from the start intend those to be possibilities only. I also meant that talk to be an alternative to the nature poetry I had been steeped in, but I didn’t want it to replace as the next de rigueur mode or whatever. Actually, the more I dig and think and research, the more all poetry seems like it could be read ecologically, as so much of writing deals with relations between self and other, re-engineering language subject, perception and exterior, where we fit into larger systems, landscape, history, culture—where and how we inhabit and how we negotiate with others inhabiting the same spaces.

SQ:  Do you think that poetry can be part of a reactive matrix dealing with our perceptions and relationship to environmental social and cultural issues around climate change?

MD: Absolutely yes. I like your term matrix, and I’d also argue that poetry can be an active matrix, especially when it resets, so to speak, words’ relations to systems and objects. Where poetry reworks how things are articulated, in that space where the exterior occurs, we perceive it, and then articulate it. I’m very interested in Ponge, Thoreau, Mayer, in how they got close to both thing and mind and even closer in language. So while writing poetry concerned with ecology may not have immediate, measurable, political effect, it is the unseen space, maybe often a private space, where language is questioned, where an incredible stream of data is translated into new ways of phrasing, seeing, investigating.

SQ: Do you see a relationship between what we think of as nature poetry and ecopoetics?

MD: There’s no hard-and-fast division, especially as I say above, ecopoetics has not (yet) transformed into a distinct and immediately identifiable school of poetry. I do find it interesting that Camille Dungy titled her new anthology, Black Nature Poetry, especially as I see it as a big problem that race issues, such as displacement and diaspora, have not been included thus far in the conversation on ecopoetics. As for myself, what I write is somewhat of an investigative reaction against the idea of finding sublimity in the “natural,” which automatically creates a false binary between human/natural, subject/object, city/country, wilderness/civilization (and again, how race fits into the dichotomy between urban/rural is very interesting!). How can I find nature within the human, and the human within nature? How can language be reshaped to allow for a perception/articulation of natural systems in the overlooked, ephemeral, dirtied, repulsive aspects of human living—water pipes, nuclear waste, geography of asphalt. I love that quote (paraphrased) from the Bible, if we are in the world, but not of it—what does that mean?

SQ:  How does place figure in your work?

MD: In my last book Traffic & Weather I hoped to explore the ideas of site-specific work within a medium that is intrinsically not site-specific. How can language be tied to, stem from, a place when language is so portable, mobile? I’m interested also in geographic dislocation within poetry—maybe here are some questions and answers about where interior ends, exterior begins, that same relations of self to outside to other.

But place to me is also city. I’m quite passionate about “proving” that cities are just as wild as any “pristine” wilderness (which I’m not sure ever existed, or only existed by ignoring the existence of its inhabitants). By proving humans are as much part as natural systems as anything else, we will no longer be able to hold ourselves above and apart. We’ll have to accept where we are and then live in that space more harmoniously—with the other, with pollution, with our human-made buildings and roads and industrial systems.

SQ:  What is the latest, or your favourite, or most curious text that engages some of these questions for you?

MD: I really adore—and get a lot of material from—nuts-and-bolts books on subjects like “Avant-Gardening,” community gardens, water issues, urban planning (just bought a huge book on the downtown Manhattan plan of 1966), anything that gets into the nitty-gritty of humans interacting with nature, technical details. Poets who inspire me are Jack Collom, Tina Darragh, Julie Patton, Eleni Sikelianos, Jonathan Skinner, Tonya Foster, Ed Roberson, Brenda Coultas, Will Alexander, Bernadette Mayer, Rachel Levitsky (b/c her new book is so amazing and about civic/human ecology), Christopher Dewdney, Karen Weiser and so many others!

MD is the author of several collections of poetry, including most recently, Deep Eco Pre, a collaboration with Tina Darragh available online. Other books are Traffic & Weather (Futurepoem Books) and AREA (Belladonna Books). She has given talks on the potential intersections of ecology and poetry at Small Press Traffic, Kelly Writers House, Poets House, Naropa University and other venues, and essays can be found in The Ecolanguage Reader, published by Nightboat Books this year.


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Sina Queyras.