ENGL788F - Studies in Poetic Form; Ecopoetics: A Genealogy

A course on the long literary tradition of a deep ecology.  The term ecopoetics captures an idea at the very center of our current global condition: the scientifically verifiable reality of ongoing disasters and catastrophes effected by human civilization calls into question whether Nature can still be said to exist.  This seemingly inexorable and alarming skepticism has its philosophical antecedent in Longinus' notion of the sublime (disclosing the distance between Nature and the human) and Kant's twist on the notion, that there is nothing "out there" to be experienced as the sublime that is not affectively inside ourselves, that we experience as a feeling, an emotion.  What are the implications of this predicament; and how has poetry realized it through the ages? 


The word ecology is rooted in the Greek oikos, or house; that is, dwelling.  "Poetically," writes Hölderlin, "man dwells."  Heidegger, thinking about Hölderlin, puts, for our purposes, a finer point on it: "the taking of the measure is what is poetic in dwelling."  To take the measure of the dwelling will be, in this course, our ecology; but we will construct a genealogy that undoes chronology in order to suggest the synchronous ecology in which humanity dwells, inside the poem and out.  Poems from the Renaissance will call forward classical antecedents and inflect the late Modern, just as poems written in our own historical moment alter (as Eliot argues) how we read the past.  But we will also show care not to stop with our themes and our histories: we will inquire, too, into how poetic form and poetic language not only reflect an ecology, but instantiate it--by cycling and recycling; by flowing, branching, morphing; by floating and falling; by traversing.   How do natural catastrophes define our sense of history, and wreck our sense of dwelling?  How is Nature gendered, and why; and how do poets amplify, extend, revise, reject, and in other ways critique such gendering?  What is the future of the sublime, and how will we survive it?  What is the value of silence?  Of imaginatively becoming plant and animal and stone?  Can the Book of Nature exist without the Book of God?  How is the figure of running water and moving air emblematic of poetic inspiration?  These questions, other questions, and your questions will drive our course through our coursing.


Among our readings we will find poets such as Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Spenser, Marvell, More, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Clare, Browning, Hopkins, Yeats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tuckerman, D.H. Lawrence, Wallace Stevens, W.C. Williams, Marianne Moore, Lynette Roberts, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, George Oppen, Gary Snyder, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn, Roy Fisher, Elizabeth Bishop, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, Galway Kinnell, Wendell Berry, A.R. Ammons, Kamau Brathwaite, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Ed Roberson, Lisa Robertson, Arthur Sze, Brenda Hillman, Lyn Hejinian, Juliana Spahr, Alice Oswald, Kathleen Jamie, Brian Teare, Christine Hume, C.D. Wright, and selections from Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the SacredWe will read pages from the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, Robert Torrance, Rachel Carson, Loren Eisely, the biologist E.O. Wilson, and other science writers.  Critical readings will include Paul Alpers, Jonathan Bate, Laurence Buell, William Empson, Angus Fletcher, Bruno Latour, Leo Marx, Annabel Patterson, Raymond Williams, John Felstiner, Jed Rasula, Donna Haraway, Harry Berger, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, and Gordon Teskey.  We will consider apt visual works, such as Poussin's Et in Arcadio Ego, Bernini's Apollo & Daphne, Noguchi's stone sculpture, Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water, the earthworks of Robert Smithson and Andrew Goldsworthy, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. And we will ask you to find more.


This course is open to MFA, MA, and PhD students, and will aim to stage a set of mutually informing and challenging interactions that will encourage poets and fictioneers to think rigorously, academic students to think creatively, and everyone to write with the spirit of experiment and innovation.