What Is Eco-Poetry
Owl Visitation recorded by visionary artist Thomas Ashcraft
(play the brief movie clip at the site below)
Thomas Ashcraft, Heliotown
As globalization draws us together and industrialization and human population pressures take their toll on natural habitats, as species of plants and animals flicker and are snuffed from the earth, it may be worthwhile to ask whether an ethnocentric view of human beings as a species independent from others underpins our exploitation of natural resources and sets into motion dire consequences. What we’ve perpetrated on our environment has certainly affected a poet’s means and material. But can poetry be ecological?
Can it display or be invested with values that acknowledge the economy of interrelationship between human and non-human realms? Aside from issues of theme and reference, how might syntax, line break, or the shape of the poem on the page express an ecological ethics? If our perceptual experience is mostly palimpsestic or endlessly juxtaposed and fragmented; if events rarely have discreet beginnings or endings but only layers, duration, and transitions; if natural processes are already altered by and responsive to human observation, how does poetry register the complex interdependency that draws us into a dialogue with the world?
Lisa Sanditz at CRG Gallery
There are, of course, long traditions of the pastoral, poetry centered on nature or landscape, in both Eastern and Western language literature. I, myself, am less interested in “nature poetry”—where nature features as theme—than in poetry, sometimes called eco-poetry, which investigates—both thematically and formally—the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception.
The United States and China are locked in a tug of war to determine which country can spew more carbon. For both, natural resources are plundered for short-sighted ends. Perhaps these facts place particular responsibilities on the poets of both countries. Maybe the development of environmental literacy, by which I mean a capacity for reading connections between the environment and its inhabitants, can be promoted by poetic literacy; maybe poetic literacy will be deepened through environmental literacy.
Poetry doesn’t simply supplement the rational intellect, but provides inherently and sometimes incommensurable forms of insight. Because its meanings are neither quantitative nor verifiable, poetry may offer different, subtler and more complex expressions than the language of information and commerce. An eco-poetry might even...
Denny Moers Photographic Monoprints
Born in California’s Mojave Desert, poet Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, where he majored in geology. After earning an MA in literature from San Francisco State University, Gander moved to Mexico, then to Arkansas, where his poetry—informed by his knowledge of...