"Exquisitely marginal, folded into place, and revelatory"
Introductory note to a resurgent ecopoetics post-conference ‘Plenary’
“The feral lives among us almost as if it belongs” (331), writes ecocritic Anne Milne in the course of arguing for the value of a feral bioregionalism. While ecological thinking tends to reject these uncategorizable (not domesticated, not wild) ecosystem agents as invasive, “unnatural,” her defense of the feral rests on its power to redefine us, to invoke a “new openness to how we seem from where it stands,” to instigate the powerful ‘other’ of the natural world, “encompass[ing] a myriad of coevolving agencies.” The feral is paired with innovation; situating us in a “context of uncertainty” (332) it drives new methodologies, helps us reconceptualize what we mean by “living well in place.” Poetry has always articulated wonder, if not uncertainty, about human subjectivity and our relation to the nonhuman world. In a resurgent ecopoetics, poets and poems embrace uncertainty, moving along its trajectory to become agents of social and material change. A resurgent ecopoetics arises in place, crosses boundaries, and consciously dwells on living an ecologically-implicated human life; it is bioregional in that it claims, and writes from and for, a life-place. It emphasizes, like the feral, how “change, coevolution and new knowledges can be simultaneously and exquisitely marginal, folded into place, and revelatory” (332).
Gary Snyder implicitly invokes/invites the feral in his 1992 essay “Unnatural Writing.” The title itself suggests a wilding of the genre of ‘nature writing’ as such, and he concludes with a manifesto for a “New Nature Poetics” of bioregional “wild” mind. Contemporary writers have activated much of what he called for: writing that is nature- and place-literate, written by semi-expert and expert naturalists and bioregionalists; writing that does not fear science, and evolves out of or through science literacy; and writing that seeks out totem animals, plumbing the strength, for example, of Bear, “relentlessly protective of the wild”(262). He also calls for an approach to “world as ‘making’ (poem), poem as creature of the wild mind”(262). To propose poem as creature is to situate it as a “feral change agent” (Milne), as a means through which one becomes what Nicholas Garside calls a “feral citizen,” a human agent enacting social change by intervening into a community “to accelerate or illuminate change appropriate for and reflective of the needs of that community”(cited in Milne, 332). Feral citizenship offers the “potential for becoming-human in new, engaged ways” (335). In drawing the feral into a posthuman relation open to hybridity, uncertainty, and possibility, Garside’s vision resonates with the feral poetics articulated by Michelle Detorie. Pointing to the linkages between ferality as linguistic and social praxes, Detorie makes a similar claim for poetry: “A feral poetics derives from the affiliations and non-affiliations of human and nonhuman animals […] it allows us to wonder about different potentials and possibilities, to envision alternate routes and image different futures.” In her reading of Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal: A Project for Future Children, a hybrid text through which Kapil figures her relation to larger narratives of nation, race, and gender, Detorie finds a figure for the transformative potential of writing in Kapil’s "dark mirror of writing." For Detorie, the dark mirror “suggests that we, by being transformed, may also enact transformations.”
It is in this terrain – of writing poems within and through the elaboration of non-species-specific social contexts, and of engaging the poem as a site of transformation and other forms of feral citizenship – that I see the work of a resurgent ecopoetics playing out. All poems engage with the transformative potential of attentiveness and the new couplings and connections that arise because of this. In terms of human consciousness and identity, a resurgent ecopoetics correlates to an ethos that extends beyond the poem, that draws on the geographical (material, social) context of an individual’s poetic praxis. There is never just “the poem” as an isolated event or document, but poems (and other poetic materials) that gather around the organism:context (i.e. ecological) relation each poet materializes through their work. This form of attention reaches across boundaries of geographies, species, materials, and genres and takes place “in the service of noticing and creating new communities”(Detorie). In the work of each of the participants gathered for this post-conference “plenary” (they are drawn from 4 panels and a plenary that took place in the 2015 Association for the Study of Literature and Environment conference), there is a radical openness to ways of knowing and thus to reimagining the human as a locus of knowledge and an agent in the world. And they accomplish this in surprising, inventive, sometimes off-putting ways – because “clearly the feral is not about the comfort zone”(338). In the very least, these poets embrace “the radically uncentered feral,” which, according to Milne, “has the potential to teach us how to live well within chaos and fragmentation”(333).
A pressing question for humans of the anthropocene: what do we do with our oh-too-human selves? One ecosystem service poetry can offer is to write “almost as if [the human] belongs"; to try to forge new means or ways of understanding our belonging to or in this world. By creating highly mobile poems based on their own on-the-ground investigations in shared social and material realities, workers in resurgent ecopoetics take part in the project of the environmental humanities. They raise the question of who we are as humans, how me might rewrite or differently enact human agency; they gesture toward what new ground “who we are” might be, for a new future of environmental and social justices, founded on.
Participants were invited to respond to the following questions. Their responses will be shared, divided between two forthcoming posts to “Emplaced, and local to”:
1) An ecology is at base the relationship between organisms and contexts. Any poem is an ecology: embedded in poetics is the relationship between organism (poet) and contexts. How does writing poetry inform your sense of ecological relation – either as an organism in the world or in the poem?
2) How does rooting your poetic practice in a particular place/environment/ecology influence decisions about the shape/rhetorics/subjectivities, etc. in the poem, etc.?
Michelle Detorie, “Notes Towards a Feral Poetics” (Paper presented at Emergent Communities in Contemporary Experimental Writing)
Anne Milne, “Fully Motile and AWAITING FUTHER INSTRUCTIONS’: Thinking the Feral into Bioregionalism.” in Bioregional Imagination : Literature, Ecology, and Place, Lynch, Tom, Glotfelty, Cheryll, and Armbruster, Karla, eds.. Athens, GA, USA: University of Georgia Press, 2012.
Gary Snyder, “Unnatural Writing.” The Gary Snyder Reader. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1999.