I feel like it is the ecopoets who taught me this. Not the nature poets.
Maybe, since the theme of the Poetry Center's reading series this fall is art and ecology, I can answer the previous question, the few books question, with an ecopoetics focus? That sounds easier. For this un-innocent relationship between the arts and
the environment has been pointed out by those who do critical work around the representation of nature. Beth Tobin, for instance, is a literary scholar who has written on the relationship between
the conventions of the botanical drawing and colonialism. And she talks in her book Imperial Designs about how the conventions of botanical illustration that develop with western exploration—those images that present the plant isolated against a white background—are yet another example of imperial thinking.
But also I feel I learned about the system, about the ecological, from Hawaiian poetry. From works like the Kumulipo, a Hawaiian creation chant. This is a poem that is in addition to being very beautiful is also interesting because it presents an evolutionary and also systemic view of creation.
When I read your work I often find myself asking the question, what is the responsibility or role of the writer―or citizen. Is that a question you consider in your writing and also in reading and teaching?
Sure. I like the question. Perhaps I might replace "responsibility" with "possibility."
A Conversation between Juliana Spahr and Laynie Browne
Can you please talk briefly about a few books which you've found critical to your development as a writer?
Oh it is endless. This week I've been writing some about Edouard Glissant's Poetics of Relation. Or let me give you four from the last half year that I like to think about together.
1. Glissant's Poetics of Relation. 2. NourbeSe Philip's Zong! 3. Ian Baucom's Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History
4. Judith Butler's Giving an Account of Oneself.
In your opinion what is of most value about ecopoetics thus far? Do you connect your work with ecopoetics? Please explain.
Poetry is from the beginning often a genre that is used to preserve or catalogue information about the environment. So poetry has a special relationship to the environment, through its localism and through its celebrations. But when I say poetry has a special relationship to the environment, I should also say that “special” does not mean that poetry has an entirely innocent relationship to the environment. There is a whole tradition of poetry that presents the beautiful bird or plant but not the bulldozer off to the side that is destroying the habitat. And there is also the sort of poetry that ends up talking about the beautiful plant, an invasive plant that came with a very specific history of colonialism, as if it was innocent of this history. There is a part of me that some days wants to dogmatically say that any poetry about the Bay Area, for instance, must in some way remind that the bay was once clear, before 1849.