Ecopoetries in America

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Abstract: 'Land', 'Nature', 'Wilderness' and 'the pastoral' all figure largely in conceptions of the American imaginary. They are also key terms in the conception of an ecopoetics. After a brief examination of the history of ecopoetry in America (from Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman through Frost, Berry and Merwin etc), and discussion of why an American poetics might be especially concerned with ecopoetry, this paper will examine in closer detail examples from the work of Gary Snyder, A. R. Ammons, Lorine Niedecker and Lisa Jarnot. It will argue that to read poetry in a post-pastoral age (as Terry Gifford has called it) requires a delicately poised ethics of close-reading, of response and responsibility to the local conditions of the poem. The paper's impulse is therefore to read against, or beyond, the overly romanticising impulse of much contemporary ecocriticism (whilst recognising, as many ecocritics do, the imperatives of asking how ecopoetry might constitute some sort of ecological praxis). If ecopoetry in America has a particular poetic and ethical force then this is because of its ability to draw upon a poetic tradition in which questions of pastoral vs urban space, of open field composition, of ideas vs things, of suspicion about the role of metaphor within a culture that privileges metaphors of space, identity and settlement, haunt the Emersonian proposition that America's very nature is poetic, that 'America is a poem in our eyes'. Ecopoetries in America, then, expose us to the precarious nature of our engagements with the world as both text and real space. They remind us that poetry, like America, involves human uses and transformations of nature, that to read poetry is to act, and that to act is always culturally and ideologically determined.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to American Poetry since 1945
EditorsJennifer Ashton
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781107480971
ISBN (Print)9780521147958, 9780521766951
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Literature

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