Skip to main content

EN991 Ecopoetics Workshop

Tutor: Jonathan Skinner

Aims: a long poem or a sequence of poems, or a small collection of discrete poems with enough coherence to constitute a substantial section of a manuscript. Students will also be asked to keep a commonplace book, that integrates notes on poetry and poetics, along with poem drafts, with notes from the students' other studies, that will be handed in to the instructor periodically throughout the term. Finally, students compose a critical essay or statement on poetics, which is approached through drafts of shorter statements written in response to each unit's readings and discussion. Alternatively, a site-specific project, performance or community-based writing or publishing initiative may be substituted for this final essay, but only in close consultation with the instructor and with the requisite planning and documentation. Additionally, besides completing the reading and writing assignments for the introductory sections (first seven classes), and participating in workshops around those assignments, the student will read four poetry collections chosen with respect to the student's writing concerns (which might include "classics," or might include reading a run of works by the same poet) and write short reviews of these collections. Students will bring three, progressively developed drafts of their final writing project to the workshop--the project entails pursuing a direction indicated by the compass that instructor and student together decide best suits the student's concerns, in ecopoetics. Each student will have at least one of his or her drafts intensively workshopped during the final month of the semester.

Week 1 Introductions. Methods. Overview of workshop. Listening and writing.

Week 2 Sound and soundscapes

Sound marks the “true north” of ecopoetics—not the only significant dimension of an environmental poetics, but often a reliable way to get oriented—a Compass Point for thinking, writing, speaking to get their bearings in a more-than-human world. An ecopoetics attends first by listening, whatever be its other vectors of engagement. (“Before it is polluted, the river wants to be heard,” writes Cecilia Vicuña.) Listening can be understood as a stance of participatory receptiveness, as much as an aural faculty (we can “listen” with our eyes or “sound” with science): it is difficult to be responsible to an environment, if we have not first listened in, to find out who is present

John Cage, “Music Loversʼ Field Companion,” Empty Words (excerpt)

Emily Dickinson, "A route of evanescence"

Larry Eigner, What you Hear (selections)

Ronald Johnson, “ARK 38, Arielʼs Songs to Prospero

Nathaniel Mackey, “Sound and Semblance”

Lorine Niedecker, “Paean to Place”

Maggie OʼSullivan, “Starlings”

R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape (excerpt)

First poem(s) and intial statement of poetics due.

Week 3 Concepts and procedures

Northeast points to conceptual and procedural writing: modes of writing keyed explicitly to the development of modernist poetics in the Western tradition (much more than to any orientation to more recent developments in poetics around the globe). [Something about managing information.] At the same time, conceptual and procedural writing offer tools for a kind of site-specific practice, at the “sites” of various discourses and institutions, like “ecology” itself, that make them absolutely contemporary.

Jody Gladding, Translations from Bark Beetle

Kenneth Goldsmith, The Weather (selection)

Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day (excerpt)

Stephen Ratcliffe, Real (selections)

Ron Silliman, “Jones,” “Skies” (excerpts)

Juliana Spahr, things of each possible relation hashing against one another (excerpt)

Jonathan Stalling, “Wolf Howls”

Poem(s) and poetics response due.

Week 4 Documents and research

Documentary and research-based practices work directly with history, and/or what has been documented, as their primary material. They orient attention against the movement of solar time, heirs to an Enlightenment quest to know what the day has so far illuminated—and what, as the case may be, official histories have obscured. Many of the poets at work in this vector provide strategies for the longterm incorporation of research into oneʼs poetics.

Jack Collom, “Passage” (excerpt)

Brenda Coultas, The Bowery Project (selection)

Thalia Field; Bird Lovers, Backyard (excerpt)

Susan Howe, “Thorow”

Phil Metres, Oil (selections)

Simon Ortiz, Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land

(selection)

Ed Sanders, Investigative Poetry (excerpt)

Eleni Sikelianos, The California Poem (selection)

Poem(s) and poetics response due.

Week 5 Situations

Situationist work engages the dérive of research, turning the compass toward unknown outcomes. The unknown can emerge as much from standing oneʼs ground as from pursuing detours, and some of the poetics in this section emerges from an explicitly activist stance, literally placing or displacing poetry into public space and other less evidently poetic contexts, such as governmental hearings, farming, or architecture. Sometimes poetry goes undercover and is reframed as an architectural bureau or an art review. Here is the practice of “poetry by other means,” a reframing that situationist work holds in common with conceptual poetics—the difference being that conceptual practice emphasizes the aesthetic dimension while situationist practice may be tied more explicitly to political outcomes.

Wendell Berry, Farming: A Manual (selection)

Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand, Landscapes of Dissent (excerpt)

Simon Cutts, “After John Clare: Proposal for the first Aeolian Neon, powered by wind turbine,”

Allison Hedge Coke, Blood Run (selection)

Brenda Hillman, Practical Water (selection)

Joan Maloof, “September 11th Memorial Forest”

Julie Patton, “Paper Toys,” Concrete Poetries, “Composaytions,” “Floor Plays,”

“Recycle Pedias,” and “Vociflors” (photo portfolio)

Heidi Lynn Staples and Amy King, eds., Poets for Living Waters (editorsʼ statement)

Poem(s) and poetics response due.

Week 6 Systems and boundaries

As we turn south, we face the border and the boundary work that characterizes ecopoetics, as a practice of the ecotone. Ecopoetics entails working creatively with edges and the exploration of systems (ecosystems, economic systems, political systems, immune systems), from the inside as well as the outside, a doubled stance that poetry is especially adept at assuming. Borders above all entail acts oftranslation.

Will Alexander, “The Bedouin Ark”

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, “Pollen”

Robert Duncan, “The Opening of the Field”

Lyn Hejinian, “The Quest for Knowledge in the Western Poem” (excerpt)

Myung mi Kim, Dura (selection)

Jena Osman, The System (selection)

Gary Snyder, “Mount Saint Helens: Loowit” and “After Bamiyan”

Arthur Sze, “The Redshifting Web” (excerpt)

Poem(s) and poetics response due.

Week 7 Interstices and hybrids

As ecopoetics turns west, toward the “future,” boundary work becomes a practice of interstices, of thinking and making between: between writing and drawing, between international modernist and traditional lineages, between North and South, in ways that seek to undo these binaries, or to develop them as complementary rather than opposed. “Mestizo poetics” seek a way forward without the myths of cultural and ecological purity that have been so frequently deployed to resist Western logocentrism. A new form of resistance to the “spell” of alphabetic literacy draws as much on European modernist innovation as on traditional indigenous practice.

Sherwin Bitsui, Flood Song (excerpt)

Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture / Beyond Nature and Culture (excerpt)

Robert Grenier, OWL/ON/BOU/GH (selection)

James Thomas Stevens, “A Half-Breedʼs Guide to the Use of Native Plants” (selections)

Cecilia Vicuña, “Ten Metaphors in Space”

Poem(s) and poetics response due.

Week 8 First review and manuscript draft due. Workshopping.

Week 9 Second review and manuscript draft due. Workshopping.

Week 10 Third review and manuscript draft due. Workshopping.

Final manuscript draft and essay due a week or two later.

Assessment:

A portfolio of 10,000 words (45 CATS), or 8,000 words (36 CATS) 6,000 words (30 CATS) or 5000 words (20 CATS). In all cases, students will submit a portfolio of 50% creative work and 50% essay