December 2, 2013


The Ecopoetry Anthology presents not just poems about nature. Ecopoetry is a movement that seeks to change our culture from dominion over all living things to living in harmony with all beings. Humans are not separate from nature. We know that our increasing population and the increasing pressure to exploit natural resources is becoming a challenge for the planet and our own quality of life. Our needs for fuel, energy, manufacturing, and profit contribute to the degradation of the environment and scarcity of resources. Eco-poetry seeks to rebalance the world, to find a new language that can draw us back from the inevitable disasters caused by materialism, excessive consumption, and short-term vision.

This collection of poetry provides a wide range of work. I recommend it. I think it's a very good starting place.  I felt at times that it was almost too wide a range of poems. The definition of ecopoetry is broad and it accomodates a lot.  Ultimately, I think we need more eco-poetry.  So I'm saying, write it.  The poet Linda Hogan once told me that whatever you write about makes it stronger. Write about what is important to you. Write about things that need to be stronger.  And you might ask: how do you do that?

 In the essay, "What Is Eco-Poetry?", (Poetry Foundation) poet Forest Gander examines the dilemma:
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?
I wonder if Gander remembers eco-feminism. Feminist writers were confronted with a similar challenge; when they sought to change patriarchal structures, they found the language barely adequate to the task. Susan Griffin wrote powerful books: Women and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her and a Chorus of Stones. In the first, she examines the deep connections between Nature and women; in the second, she examines gender, violence and the development of terrorism. Susan Griffin calls for a cultural shift, for the domestic or feminine to become central. Her ideas can help inform eco-poetics.  Feminism has long been at work on changing the existing structures to make our world safer for women and more humane for all.  It seeks to mitigate the effects of "women living by a script they did not write" (Elaine Showalter) and to help women live by scripts they do write.   Liberation movements create new visions for the future and they appeal to fairness and ethics.

Interdependency and nurturance were at the heart of the feminist lesbian rage of Audre Lorde.  In her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," she explores a question similar Gander's. She was making a critique of a feminist conference and the feminist movement that had excluded diverse voices: women of color and lesbians.  She was one of many feminists who were reaching through the language to find a new form, and a new story, that empowered women and embraced differences. She recognized the need for nurturance and interdependency.  She wrote:
Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of difference strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters. 
In the field of ecopoetry, is it possible to eliminate the hierarchy that places humans, particularly men, at the top?  What of corporate entities who are treated as persons?  Perhaps they are at the topmost position of the current hierarchies.    

I haven't heard of too many people who seek a "fund of necessary polarities."  It is wise, this striving to find and listen to and engage with many perspectives.  She often criticized the feminist movement and identified the tensions within it; she also spoke strongly when she was opposed by Jesse Helms:  “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds . . . Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change . . . Helms knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for” (

Audre Lorde was a strong advocate for lesbian consciousness; she believed that women needed to claim the erotic for themselves, and thereby change the ground where we walk. The erotic-- love that was intimate, physical, and sexual--holds an important key.  It is not exploitative, but it is capable of connecting to and generating women's power. This excerpt of her poem "Movement Song" also speaks to eco-poets as much as it did to black women, lesbians and feminists:
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into desire
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
conceiving decision.
Do not remember me
as disaster
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
only ourselves. 
Eco-poetics need not reinvent the wheel. Poets can use the tools that are suggested here: to make the connections between human and nonhuman realms, to celebrate the differences, to place the domestic and the feminine in the center, and write the erotic.

Regarding Gander's concern for palimpsest or fragmented lines, or layered narratives, I turn to women's work.  I like to contemplate the myth of Penelope.  In order to resist the patriarch's plan for her to choose a husband, Penelope declared that she would weave a shroud for her father-in-law, and when she was done, she would choose a suitor.  She wove doing the days, but un-did her weaving during the nights.  This story offers insight about resistance and change.  She challenged the hierarchy in clever ways, and she seemed to avoid direct confrontation. Change-makers need to both weave and un-weave to bring disparate threads together and to take things apart. 

Syntax, line break, and form are determined by the content of a poem and the individual poet's voice. These decisions can not be dictated.  The vision of the poet is needed the most. Can we adopt open forms?  Will that make a difference? Can we avoid being didactic?  Can syntax and line breaks be generative or renewing or healing or erotic (life-giving)?

Poets, similar to many writers who choose to write about abuse or atrocity, can use the techniques of witness, testimony, and advocacy.  Sensitivity is needed. We need not recreate traumas merely to bludgeon the reader. We must borrow the fierceness of Audre Lorde and imagine new futures. Every tool is needed to preserve our quality of life. Becoming a poet may likely change the habits of one's own life, to stop excessive consumption, learn to live with less, find ways to nurture, plant, and enhance the environment.  We need to develop safe energy, new technologies, and reduce our carbon footprints. We should strive to convert more people to becoming poets; to encourage diversity in all ways, and help others to find, develop and use their voices.  

I live in an area that is economically supported and environmentally threatened by mining.  It is a constant concern.  Like those going into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (a Federally designated wilderness that is currently being considered by corporate mining interests), we need to travel lightly and take only what we need.

Anthropologists know it takes a hundred years to make change.  It's a long process.  Movements of any kind tend to have a pendulum effect: sometimes they seem to be rising and sometimes fading.  Ecology needs policy changes, environmental protections, and cultural change.  There is much work to be done.  Certainly, poems can make a difference.  No other language is as powerful, as evocative, and as piercing.  More poets writing more poems will certainly have an impact.   To avoid poisoning ourselves and irrevocably ruining the quality of life we enjoy, to avoid future generations suffering the contamination caused by sulfide mining, fracking, nuclear waste, and other things, all of us need to practice ways to "leave no trace."

Fisher-Worth, Ann and Laura-Gray Street. The Ecopoetry Anthology.  Trinity University Press. 2013. Print.

Gander, Forest. "What is Ecopoetry?" Poetry Foundation. 2013.  Retrieved 2 December 2013. Web.

Griffin, Susan.  A Chorus of Stones.  Anchor Book. New York.  1993.  Print.

Griffin, Susan.  Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her.  Sierra Club Books. Reissue Edition 2000. Print.

Lorde. Audre. "Movement Song."  Poetry Foundation.  Retrieved 2 December 2013. Web.

Lorde, Audre.  "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House."  Sister Outsider.  Crossing Press. 1984 and 2007. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment