Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New American Ecopoetry

Interesting tid-bit: If you google, "ecopoetry," "Gary Snyder," "Jack Collom," and "Jonathan Skinner" you will come across one hit, this 2005 post on Josh Corey's blog.

Seeing that Snyder is the 20th Century's most important ecopoet, Collom is quite likely the most inventive and ecologically-informed New American to follow, and Jonathan Skinner is the editor of the only experimental contemporary ecopoetry journal (and one of only a handful of people I know who talks about ecopoetics on an deeply meaningful and up-to-date level), I would figure there would be at least ten sites to go to when putting these three writers together in the same breath. Alas, no dice.

Being of the investigative sort, I replaced "Jack Collom" in this equation with "Andrew Schelling," another well-informed ecopoet, who's both friends with Skinner and Snyder, and somewhat surprisingly I didn't come up with a single hit. By taking out Schelling's name entirely, the only hits that show up are in reference to the same Jonathan Skinner 2005 panel discussion that is reprinted in it's entirety on Josh Corey's blog. Take out "Jonathan Skinner" and replace it with "Jack Collom" and you get the same Josh Corey blog entry and nothing else. Replace "Jack Collom" with "Andrew Schelling" and you end up with a Japanese Amazon site.

All this web searching leads one to quickly discover the dismal level of interest in New American ecopoetry [note: I just googled "New American ecopoetry" and didn't get a single hit; does this mean, therefore, that I have invented a new genre?]. Just at a time when ecological ideas and solutions are bubbling quickly to the surface in face of a catastrophe of nearly unspeakable proportions, the lack of serious discussion is deafening. And while there are a few excellent contemporary ecopoets to have emerged out of the New American tradition, even after reading through a few of Skinner's Ecopoetics journals, one is left feeling as though many of our so-called avant-ecopoets are actually language-oriented writers moonlighting on an ecological bandwagon, the majority of whom couldn't identify a white from a red pine, or who have made little commitment in their personal lives toward living carbon neutral and/or fighting for environmental causes. For example, take Joshua Corey(an amazingly astute and interesting writer/blogger)'s comments on his inclusion in the 2005 AWP ecopoetics panel:

It's funny how I'm being pulled further and further into an ecopoetics constellation; I still don't think of myself as any sort of nature writer, partly because my vocabulary for plants, animals, etc., is so impoverished (I don't have a firm grasp on "scientific discourse" either). For me "pastoral" is more a kind of phantasmagoric image of utopian political economy. Hopefully I can boil that down into something presentable in under ten minutes.
So where is the Gary Snyder of the 21st Century?

This is a question, I have been asking myself since at least 1996, when Peter Gizzi told me to "Get of the woods!" and introduced me to the contemporary avant-garde. It really begs two questions: 1) how did the eco-poetry and the environmental movement manage to paradoxically become so SoQ dominated and still maintain Snyder as its hero—a blue-blooded New American whose early poetry, essays, and example are are still fairly radical? And 2) why have later generations of New Americans turned largely an ecopoetic blind eye?

In the next few weeks I hope to revisit a number of these questions. Feel free to offer thoughts and opinions along the way. One caveat that I'd like to put out there is this: I think it is important not to try and re-write history by bringing up as ecopoetic, examples of writing from New American poets who weren't ecologically conscious in the first place. I see this type eco-revision routinely in the pages of ISLE and it doesn't sit right with me. From my experience, re-visionist thinking like this rarely offers a helpful model for further investigation.

To start the discussion off, I'd love to build a running list of New American ecopoets, so we can all be on the same page. So who do you think warrants the label New American ecopoet??? I'll take names in the comment section and by email.


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