Limit and Scale: Robert Creeley’s ecological poetics

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This paper argues that the poetry of Robert Creeley (1926-2005) — not, so far, seen as ecopoetry — might be seen as a ‘limit-case’ for ecological thinking. And it asks what the consequences are of reading Creeley’s poetry as fundamentally environmental in its concerns. The paper starts with two statements by Creeley in which he addresses the limits and the scale of the human and of the poem:

I cannot cut down trees with my bare hand, which is the measure of both tree and
— ‘A Sense of Measure’ (1964)

All that would matter to me, finally, as a writer, is that the scale and the place of our common living be recognized.
— Autobiography (1990)

For Creeley, the poem is a place that both enacts such a measuring of human limits and that draws into itself a consideration of the scale of our common living. The paper’s close readings of a range of poems from across Creeley’s career examines his preoccupation with limit and scale, and with the poem in / as the world, so as to map his poetic thinking onto recent ecological thinking.

Indeed, following Bill McKibben’s suggestion (in The End of Nature) that we face our current ecological crisis because ‘our sense of scale is awry’ the paper examines the ways in which Creeley’s poetic thinking on the tense limits separating human and natural scales operates as a ‘vibrant poetics’ in which acts of ecological thinking takes place. The paper will show that by attending to ideas of scale – and the focus this throws onto human-nonhuman relations – Creeley’s poetry becomes an ‘entangled environment’, an ecological system that is part-and-parcel of (rather than an autonomous cultural object distinct from) the world – ‘nature’ – in which it finds itself operating.

This argument about Creeley’s ecological poetics is informed by recent ecological thinkers such as Timothy Morton and – especially – Jane Bennett for whom a ‘vibrant poetics’ is that which ‘can help us feel more of the liveliness of … things and reveal more of the threads of connection binding our fate to theirs’; in Creeley’s terms, the threads of ‘common living’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2022
EventA Superpower by Nature: The Environment in American Studies: Conference of the Netherlands American Studies Association - Utrecht and online
Duration: 20 May 202221 May 2022


ConferenceA Superpower by Nature: The Environment in American Studies: Conference of the Netherlands American Studies Association

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