The poet's footprint is the poem

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I've been following Adam Roberts' engaging five part series on the state of contemporary poetry, published in The Atlantic. I'm honoured to be included in his fourth post in the series, which looks at ecological and slow poetries.

With Slow Poetry in mind, it might be necessary to say that it's not enough, anymore, for a poem to be "about nature" for it to be properly ecological... Jonathan Skinner's journal ecopoetics and Brenda Ijima's anthology eco language reader are two resources that do wonders towards helping move this discussion along. The basic argument goes something like this: the "nature poem" of old – insofar as it holds the "natural" and "human" apart as separate categories, repressing social and political context – risks reducing nature to a kind of territory for human epiphany, engaging in a kind ecological orientalism. Says Skinner: "Juliana Spahr, a poet in the Bay Area, put it brilliantly...the nature poet focuses on the bird and the bird's nest, but doesn't turn around to confront the bulldozer ... Ecopoetry expands the frame to include the bulldozer."
In this article Roberts hints at something very important and rarely discussed in ecological poetries – the relocalisation of poetry itself; the poem has to be walking distance, to expand Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Perez's maxim – 'the food has to be walking distance'. How this changes the poem is the context for my doctorate.

We went foraging for yam daisies a few days ago. Yams were once an important staple of the Djadja Wurrung, our local Yes people. Including yam daisies and other bush foods (lomandras, bracken fern, pigface and warrigal greens) into our within-walking-distance-diet calibrates us to Djadja Wurrung thinking – ecologically embodied resource-gathering, hunting and nomadic farming. Through foraging we become aware of the ecological intelligence that has been lost since invasion, and we become deeply sensitive to nuance, complexity and intensity within reciprocal-competitive natural systems. After returning from our yam forage I wrote this poem, Moonar (yam daisy), as a slow text mesostic to celebrate our increasingly relocalised existence and our deep respect for the traditional peoples of our local landbase.
Click for bigger.

For me, the important thing with a slow-text is the physical impact the poem has on the body. A coke 'n chips attention span just isn't going to cut it (either in terms of reading poems or having a future). A slow text forces a slow reading, at least for the first read; the eye stumbles over rocky ground, no neat flat monological lawns for it to glide over like ad copy; or to use 60s language – no rows of words lining up like colonising soldiers across the page.


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