In “Lake Superior,” a poem of historical rumination on the Great Lakes region, derived by Lorine Niedecker from a 1966 vacation journal, there is a brief critical turn amidst appreciations of the landscape and compact accounts of seventeenth-century explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson, who called Lake Superior “a laborinth of pleasure.” Niedecker draws the reader’s attention to “Iron the common element of earth” as well as “basalt the common dark / in all the Earth.” She features the commonwealth as a geologically coherent reality: “In every living thing,” she writes, “is stuff that once was rock // In blood the minerals / of the rock.” But her salvo, a judgment of human actions on the wild depiction of that landscape, darkens the mood of the poem, and shifts the scale from natural processes of land formation, observed in vivid descriptions of retreating glaciers and “peaks of volcanic thrust,” to that of moral consternation.
As Lorine Niedecker once wrote of Louis Zukofsky, I can write the same of John Taggart: “I [am] fortunate enough to call him friend and mentor.” I met John back in 1985 as a freshman at Shippensburg University. By some strange luck, I like to believe it was the hands of the gods, I was assigned John as my adviser. I was an undeclared major with “poetry” listed under Hobbies on my application.
When the feminist poetry press Kelsey St. published Myung Mi Kim’s 1991 epic work Under Flag, a publicity blurb described it as a book that “documents” the “struggle to learn English,” an experience, the blurb goes on to say, that “resembles the experience of innumerable other US citizens in a century that has been shaped by wars and vast human migrations.”
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.
In the fall of 2005, Harvey Shapiro and Norman Finkelstein came together — to read their poems in tandem, and to talk about the objectivists, which, in Harvey's case, entailed remembering them through years of personal as well as aesthetic interaction. Bob Perelman moderated the discussion, and here are audio recordings of a few highlights:
Inland suffers its foxes: full-moon fox, far-flung fox—flung him yonder! went the story—or some fox worn like a weasel round the neck. Foxes are a simple fact, widespread and local and observable—Vulpes fulva, the common predator, varying in actual color from red to black to rust to tawny brown, pale only in the headlights.
It’s that this far inland the appearance of a fox is more reference than metaphor. Or the appearance is a demonstration. Sudden appearance, big like an impulse; or the watcher gains a gradual awareness—in the field, taking shape and, finally, familiar. The line of sight’s fairly clear leaving imagination little to supply. It’s a fact to remember, though, seeing the fox and where or, at night, hearing foxes (and where). The fox appearing, coming into view, as if to meet the speaker.
Push comes to shove. Mistah Fox arriving avec luggage, sans luggage.
I wanted to quote this poem by C.S. Giscombe, from his collection Prairie Style. There are contingent reasons, like the fact that I have somehow found myself shadowing Giscombe over the last several months. We were on a research poetics panel together at the Washington, D.C. AWP, where we discovered a common love for foxes, coyotes, wolves, the midwest, and Amtrak; I ran into him at Point Reyes, at a Michael Ondaatje reading, and drank whiskey with him in Oakland; we discovered we have Maine connections in the same neighborhood; I got a hunch he might like my latest book (full disclosure), and I asked him to blurb it, which he generously and eloquently did; I was in Bloomington, Indiana for a conference, one of Giscombe’s old stomping grounds, and then immediately caught up with him again, in Boulder, where we shared more whiskey; finally, I am now heading for a week of studying wolves in Alberta, near the epicenter of two of Giscombe’s best-known works. More to the point, his poem “Far” locates something important to ecopoetics, what I like to call the “nonfiction impulse.”
While I was listening to the following recordings, I kept thinking about how my friend Noah Eli Gordon used to love finding yield-to-pedestrian crosswalks when we both lived in Western Massachusetts, and how much he enjoyed simply being able to walk across the street without worrying about being crushed by a huge SUV. (We had both grown up in different parts of the sprawling Midwest where cars never stopped for pedestrians.) I don’t want to dwell too much on this personal association, but listening to each of these recordings recreated some version of that feeling of being struck by a small moment of unexpected freedom in the immediate environment.
It’s not that these recordings are full of unequivocal happiness or unchecked optimism (there’s plenty of complication, violence, distress, and danger hovering around them all), but that they temporarily create spaces for the listener to experience the interplay of phenomena, a listening-feeling that acknowledges complexity and flux but doesn’t make one feel a sensory overload (though I love recordings that do that too).