Jonathan Skinner

Of the relational local (2 of 2)

A petri dish of ecopoetics, continued

Neither a survey of contemporary practice, nor a conference report, this ‘plenary’ is a petri dish of ideas occasioned by the 2015 convening of ASLE ( limited by my own ability to digest the conference offerings).


Some unnamed species of porous poems
Detail, map of Quiet Places on the continental U.S.: National Park Service Sounds and Night Skies Division

A need to register the ecological effects of anthropocy may motivate an ecopoetic approach to soundscapes. But there’s also the fact of what scientists are calling “learned deafness” for which embodying listening-being becomes an organic imperative. Embedded, active listening is connective, emplacing, locating. But more than that: what if where you are is what you hear, and vice versa? According to Anthropologist Tim Ingold and constituents of bioregionalism, what we contemporary humans lack is inhabitant knowledge – and engaging sense capacities in acts of listening-being is one way contemporary poets cultivate inhabitant knowledge.

Informed by Soundscape Ecology, acoustic imbalances, and the fragmenting of natural habitats is the focused listening in Jonathan Skinner’s Birds of Tifft. Language is modified to “capture” sounds like a directional mic, registering, in a poem titled “Beaver,” shift from ground, to figure, to ground, to figure, etc., with the mammal making but a brief appearance via a couplet near the center of the poem:

'grasses' meet 'monster owl': On the UC Davis Satellite Event with Jonathan Skinner and Brian Teare

by Gillian Osborne

Yarrow seed
Yarrow seed,

In the UC Davis Arboretum, common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a “companion” plant, has many uses and many names. Along a sculpted river topped with scum, warblers disappear and reappear in native and non-native shrubs and branches. Brian Teare and Jonathan Skinner are talking about ecopoetics: the poems of Ofelia Zepeda, “emergency,” and Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. We stop to smell the sages and the yellow puffs of acacia.

The 2013 Conference on Ecopoetics began at a satellite event hosted by the Davis Humanities Center. Jonathan Skinner, editor of the journal ecopoetics, and author of among other books, Warblers, published by Brian Teare's micro-press Albion Books, sat at a table with his publisher and fellow-poet, whose most recent collection, Companion Grasses, will appear in print April 1. A selection of this same volume, “Transcendental Grammar Crown,” can also be found in the newly released Arcadia Project, edited by Joshua Corey and G.C. Waldrep.

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