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Sustainable Poetry

Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoets

Leonard M. Scigaj
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j453
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  • Book Info
    Sustainable Poetry
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the work of A.R. Ammons, Wendell Berry, W.S. Merwin, and Gary Snyder, author Leonard Scigaj shows that just as a sustainable society does not depreciate its resource base, so a sustainable poetry does not restrict interest to language. Over the past thirty years many poets have shown an increasing sensitivity to ecological thinking. But critics trained in poststructuralist language theory often fail to explore the substance of ecopoetry. Scigaj is the first to define ecopoetry as separate and distinct from nature or environmental poetry, marked by its concern with balancing the interests of human beings with the needs of nature. Just as science learned that the earth was not the center of the universe, ecopoetry insists on the recognition that humans are not at the center of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4801-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Abbreviations Used in the Text
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. 1 Ecopoetry and Contemporary American Poetry Criticism
    (pp. 1-34)

    In 1902, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Alfred Stieglitz exhibited his photograph “The Hand of Man” at his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue, in New York. He passionately wanted his audience to reperceive the ordinary and transform its aesthetic potential into an art that would lift life beyond the decay of time and organic matter, as did William Carlos Williams in poems such as “The Rose” and “Spring Strains.” Stieglitz’s photo depicted a grimy locomotive belching smoke in a railway yard, but the compositional arrangement—the contrast of light and darkness, the tense, foregrounded...

  6. 2 Sustainable Poetry: A Poetry of Référance
    (pp. 35-82)

    The literature that Altieri, Perloff, Klinkowitz, and other poststructural language critics valorize derives from an aesthetics heavily influenced by Derrida’s deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence in language. For Derrida the written word, not the spoken word, is primary in contemporary culture, and the concepts (the signified) that signifiers (signs such as orthographic squiggles, pictographs, and so on) are supposed to grasp are characterized by absence, for any signified is itself only positional and dependent on more language and borrowings from other concepts in a synchronic view of a language system. Referential pointing is purely conventional and impossibly unstable, for...

  7. 3 Homology and Chiastic Energy in the Lived Body: A. R. Ammons
    (pp. 83-128)

    Born on a Whiteville, North Carolina farm in 1926 and poet in residence at Cornell University since 1964, A.R. Ammons embodies in his poetty the contradictions implied in the two poles of his experience. Sophisticated, witty, and intellectually agile, that poetry nevertheless remains firmly rooted in a sense of place as well as the simple biological realities of every-day living. The forty-year arc of Ammons’s career fromOmmateum(1955) throughGlare(1997) also represents a movement from the severe isolation, loneliness, and introverted epistemological meditations of the early short poems to the gradually more open-armed acceptance of society and embrace...

  8. 4 The Long Hunter’s Vision: Wendell Berry
    (pp. 129-174)

    In a 1992 National Public RadioFresh Airbroadcast, Terry Gross tried to coax Wendell Berry into controversy by baiting him on the subject of his reluctance to use machines. “Why do you have horses instead of a tractor?” she teased. A pregnant pause ensued. Then came the familiar basso Kentucky drawl and the very laconic response: “Because Ilikehorses better than I like a tractor.” Simple, profound, and resonant with significance: horses do not pollute the air, their dung fertilizes the soil, and they satisfy Berry’s spirit immensely. Wendell Berry’s desire to remain true to local life, to...

  9. 5 Closing the Écarts through the Moment of Green: W.S. Merwin
    (pp. 175-230)

    Oscillating between the gnomic and the oracular, the apocalyptic and the incantatory, the serene and the satirical, W.S. Merwin’s poetry has, across its span of five decades and fourteen major volumes, provoked an equally broad spectrum of critical responses. This was especially true once Merwin left the late modernist mythmaking of his first four volumes, deconstructed the domains of self and presence, and questioned what nourishes language in his postmodern middle period, the work of the 1970s and 1980s. Critics during this period wondered whether the “elusive pallors” of his abstract language needed to be force fed to “raise sturdier...

  10. 6 Wild Nature and Joyful Interpenetration: Gary Snyder
    (pp. 231-272)

    In chapter 2 ofThe Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram summarizes the development of phenomenology from Husserl to Merleau-Ponty. According to Abram, Husserl’s focus on perception was at least in part his attempt to return scientific inquiry to “the forgotten ground of our directly felt and lived experience” (1996, 43). Husserl countered the charge of solipsism by positing that “the subjective field of experience, mediated by the body, opens onto other subjectivities” (37). Perceived phenomena are intersubjective, “experienced by a multiplicity of sensing subjects” (38). For Husserl, the “real world” or the intersubjective world, is theLebenswelt, the “life-world”...

  11. Postscript: The Green Referential Fuse
    (pp. 273-280)

    “The poet has lit the fuse of speech.” The French poststructuralist historian Michel de Certeau (1925-86), editor ofÊtudes, saw this sentence on a flyer on May 13, 1968, the day that he watched students take over the Sorbonne in the Paris uprisings—the event that ignited the poststructuralist reexamination of the uses oflanguage (1997a, 13). De Certeau saw this uprising as a “capture of speech,” a contestation by those marginalized, silenced or repressed in a power structure suddenly brought into question. Once belief is withdrawn from a system of representation, observed de Certeau, that system becomes a hollow symbolic...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 281-296)
  13. Index
    (pp. 297-311)