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EN9L3 Ecopoetics

This module offers an immersive, practical and theoretical orientation to the major "compass points" in ecopoetics: sounding, conceptual and procedural work, research and documentary poetry, situationist practices, boundary work and investigation of systems, hybrid and interstitial poetics of relation, as methodologically distinct orientations for creative and critical writing engaged with the emerging social, ecological and political challenges of the Anthropocene. Students will benefit from the interdisciplinary perspectives of discussions pointing to future configurations of literary arts and studies in relation to the humanities, sciences and social sciences. Students produce creative and critical work in response to the module materials but may choose a strictly critical or a creative-critical approach to the final project (worth 70% of mark).

Learning goals

Students who complete the module will gain an introduction to some of the principal issues in and leading theoretical critiques of the environmental crisis, across a range of disciplines; sustained engagement with distinctive, and differing, approaches to contemporary writing in ecopoetics, with a good overview of major currents in contemporary poetry; and an equally sustained immersion in hands-on practices, resulting in a portfolio of work, both critical and creative, and a comprehensive set of orientations ("compass points") for further development. Students not wishing to be assessed on their creative writing (poetry) may choose a summative essay (100% critical writing) option for the final project.

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

Demonstrate an understanding of key critical and literary concepts in ecopoetics;
Conceptualise and articulate an original research project in literary studies;
Develop strategies for reading ecologically oriented poetry in the wider context of creative and critical theory;
Design and initiate ecocritical experiments in creative writing;
Advance a critique of specific environmental solutions through applied creative practice.

Outline syllabus

Week 1 Introductions. Methods. Overview of workshop. Walking, listening and writing.
Week 2 Sound and soundscapes.
Week 3 Concepts and procedures.
Week 4 Documents and research.
Week 5 Situations.
Week 6 Systems and boundaries.
Week 7 Interstices and hybrids.
Week 8 First review and creative project draft due. Workshopping.
Week 9 Second review and creative project draft due. Workshopping.
Week 10 Third review and creative project draft due. Workshopping.



Over the course of the module, 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 (and included in the commonplace book). Besides completing the reading and writing assignments (following creative writing prompts or writing critical responses) for the introductory sections (first seven sessions), and participating in workshops around those assignments (where student poems provide the focal points for discussion of concepts, methods and set material), each student will read three contemporary poetry collections chosen with respect to the student's writing concerns and write short ecocritical reviews of these collections (to be included in the commonplace book).

Ecopoetics commonplace book
(3,500 words) 30% of final mark

Students will be asked to keep a commonplace book (or online blog), that integrates notes on poetry and poetics, along with poem drafts and/or critical responses, with notes from research into a specific environmental problem, selections from which will be shared with the workshop periodically throughout the term.

Final project (portfolio assignment)
(4,500 words) 70% of final mark

Students will bring three, progressively developed drafts of their final writing project to the workshop--the project entails pursuing a creative writing project, along with an accompanying critical essay in poetics, or alternatively a longer critical essay, guided by the compass point that instructor and student together decide best suits the student's concerns in ecopoetics. Each student will have at least one of their drafts intensively workshopped during the final three weeks of term.

Indicative reading list

See module website for further detail

Pauline Oliveiros, We Could
Charles Olson, from Projective Verse
Lisa Robertson, How Pastoral
Gary Snyder, Unnatural Writing
CAConrad, The Right to Manifest Manifesto
Cecilia Vicuña, Poetry in Space
Ed Roberson, Be Careful

Sound and soundscapes (Week 2 )

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 Prospe
Nathaniel Mackey, “Sound and Semblance”
Lorine Niedecker, “Paean to Place”
Maggie OʼSullivan, “Starlings”
R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape (excerpt)

Concepts and procedures (Week 3 )

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”

Documents and research (Week 4 )

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
Ed Sanders, Investigative Poetry (excerpt)
Eleni Sikelianos, The California Poem (selection)

Situations (Week 5 )

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)

Systems and boundaries (Week 6 )

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)

Interstices and hybrids (Week 7 )

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”
Cecilia Vicuña, “Ten Metaphors in Space”