Jonathan Skinner

ecopoetics

In this long flower war

María Meléndez’s mestizo landscapes

rapids on the Poudre River
Poudre River

Another borrowed book whose call I ignored for too long is María Meléndez’s How Long She’ll Last in This World (U of Arizona, 2006). And how helpless I became, in its pages. I cannot resist poetry that speaks to me of “the morning sparkle of cows’/ dewy slobber all over the pasture,” or of dropping “a Troxler down a vertically sunk/ PVC pipe, [measuring] soil moisture as shifts/ in the tool’s resonant frequency.” On one level, this is poetry for the pack, inspirational to field science, informative to poets. (Meléndez writes out of her work as a wildlife biology field assistant.) The phenomena referenced quicken to shared contact, to the cast of a certain landscape, a “co-pathy/ with this particular coastal prairie herd,/ because we’ve been under the same saffron spell/ of a hill of bush lupine in bloom.” Meléndez’s poetry speaks the “co-pathy” of landscapes west of the Divide, Carolinas too.

Nesting

Looking up from 'sparrow,' with Dan Beachy-Quick

swallow's nest (with an egg that did not hatch) in nesting box
Swallow's Nest

While I said I would write about nomadic poetry architectures, I got caught up reading some books I need to return to the library. One of them is Dan Beachy-Quick’s  This Nest, Swift Passerine, a book-length meditation on love, sparrows, sight, orb spiders, language, self and other, in the transcendentalist tradition Beachy-Quick has made so particularly his own. It is also a thorough demonstration of poetic intertextuality as nesting. (In his previous collection, Mulberry, Beachy-Quick imagines writing poetry as a silkworm’s work, “the weaving back and forth, as the head moves almost unnoticeably left to right and right to left as one reads, of those leaves I had devoured, those pages I read.”) Into his own looping syntax, the poet weaves “Themes” from Charles C. Abbott, Martin Buber, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Meister Eckhart, Ronald Johnson, Edward Taylor, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Wordsworth, amongst others.

Each blank page a month 
Arctic this every January
The sparrows minus zero
In the leafless tree do not 

Yard work

Collom, Nguyen, and the domestic

a deer looks up from browsing lawn on Pine Street, Boulder, CO
Deer Yard

In my last post, I referred to an at-homeness the “eco” implies (after the Green root oikos), and to alienated/naturalized binaries, that the errant poetics of Will Alexander might help us rethink. Indeed, the “household” trope is a timeworn frame for ecopoetics, promoted in my own rationale for the journal of the same name: 

“ ‘Eco’ here signals—no more, no less—the house we share with several million other species, our planet Earth. ‘Poetics’ is used as poesis or making, not necessarily to emphasize the critical over the creative act (nor vice versa). Thus: ecopoetics, a house making.” 

When I asked poet Robert Hass where he thought “ecopoetics” got started, he cited Gary Snyder’s Earth House Hold and Wendell Berry’s The Long-Legged House (both published in 1969) as the first notable titles in this area. I don’t know who coined the phrase “household Earth,” but I’m sure Stewart Brand, and his Whole Earth Catalog, had something to do with it—and/or Buckminster Fuller, and/or Gary Snyder, and/or that famous photograph of the Earth from space (1968/ ’72), with astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s comment: “It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth . . . home.”  

On the spur of Orion

Building the internal ark with Will Alexander

300,000 snow-geese arriving on the coastal plain of ANWR in early autumn
Subhankar Banerjee: Snow Geese I

The caption to Subhankar Banerjee’s photograph of migrating snow geese reads: “Nearly 300,000 snow-geese arrive from their nesting ground in the Canadian high Arctic to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early autumn. They feed sixteen hours a day on a type of cotton grass to build fat before they start their long migration south to places like New Mexico (my home), California, Texas, and Mexico. During spring and summer months nearly ninety species migrate to the coastal plain from all six continents to nest and rear their young, to molt, to stage, and to feed. In my mind through migrations of these birds, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge gets connected to every land and oceans of the planet. For several decades, the United States Government has been pushing hard to open up this coastal plain to oil and gas development.” 

Banerjee’s Arctic images (which have become ubiquitous in media about climate change) are balanced with attention to the life ways, opportunities and challenges of the peoples most closely tied to the Arctic ecosystems (Gwich’in, Inupiat). His own personal politics as an artist who has forsworn the financial speculation of the gallery system, extending his “art” into a range of political engagements, also adds to the meaning of his images. Above all, this image speaks to the fact that every person, and every species, on this planet is connected to the fate of the Arctic ecosystems, in part through the epic migrations of species like the Snow Goose.