Poetry News

Evelyn Reilly on 'Environmental Dreamscapes and Ecopoetic Grief' at Omniverse

By Harriet Staff


This week's Omniverse reprints a lengthened version of Evelyn Reilly's talk entitled “Environmental Dreamscapes and Ecopoetic Grief,” which she presented at the 2013 U.C. Berkeley Eco-poetics Conference.

Reilly's talk includes fantastic analysis on the state of ecopoetics, what it feels like to be an eco-poet, thoughts on Alan Gilbert's recent scholarship on interdisciplinary arts in relation to poetry, and a neat segment about the romantics.

Long! -And well worth reading. We'll give you a teaser here: it's from the very beginning of Evelyn Reilly's talk.

A ruminative, autobiographical segment.

Four years ago, I wrote a book that I thought of at the time as emerging from an interest in materiality—not the materiality of language, although of course all poetry is “about” that—but the materiality of the human fabricated world. I’d seen an exhibit of art by Rudolf Stingel at the Whitney, which included works made of flat pieces of styrofoam insulation that looked as if they’d been walked over in boots covered in paint thinner. I found them extremely strange and evocative, and I immediately started writing about the beauty of fabricated materials. It started as a celebration of human creative plasticity, but quickly engaged ironies such as aesthetic versus environmental notions of “the eternal.” The book ended up titled Styrofoam, and after it was published I found I’d become an eco-poet. At the time, honestly, I was a bit ambivalent about this.

Then for a while I became interested in the intersection of dystopic sci-fi and apocalyptic literature. I was particularly curious as to whether our moment was uniquely marked by a kind of catastrophic end-time imagination or if this was just an amping up of something always part of the human psyche—the fight-or-flight mechanism compulsively monitoring, on a micro- to macro-scale, the potential for various kinds of impending disaster. I’d been struck by a talk given by the environmental writer Philip Fradkin (who, sadly, just died this year) at a conference on water in Marin County. He spoke about catastrophic change being the rule rather than the exception from an environmental point of view, and of course many have made the point that this is probably also true of human history, that crisis, if not catastrophe, might even be another word for history—a perception strengthened by what seems like the regularity of our now thoroughly-interwoven social and environmental disasters. As a result, I starting writing rather dark poetry inspired by both the TV series Battlestar Galactica and the biblical Book of Revelation, and soon found that not only was I an eco-poet, but had now written two books characterized by what Elizabeth Robinson called “the humor of the bereft.”

Get ye to Omniverse!