Commentaries - March 2013

'Between that disgust and this': Trash talk at the Conference on Ecopoetics

by Angela Hume

Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus" (1920)
Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus" (1920)

Trash. Garbage. Junk. Waste. Refuse. Rubbish. Detritus. It was on everyone’s mind at the Conference on Ecopoetics. The dreaded contradiction: With a gathering of 250 of even the most environmentally minded poets, scholars, educators, and activists comes, by the end of a long weekend, a heap of trash — empty cartons and wine bottles; used paper cups, napkins, and towels; soggy tea bags and even some food waste (in the English lounge, we ended up with one to two large bags of trash by the end of each day, excluding recyclables). As we all know, it’s impossible to travel, convene, eat, and live in our society while not, at the same time, creating waste. And despite a 50-year-old modern environmental movement, today we send greater amounts of rubbish to landfills and incinerators than ever before.[1]

That said, Conference on Ecopoetics participants made an admirable effort to keep waste to a minimum. Almost everyone drank their water, coffee, and tea from reusable water bottles and travel mugs. If anything, trash was of foremost concern — and this fact was certainly reflected in panel, roundtable, and seminar presentations and discussions.

A conversation with Alice Notley on the poet's novel

Laynie Browne: In your recent book, Songs and Stories of the Ghouls, you write:

“Poetry tells me I’m dead; prose pretends I’m not” [1]. 

Can you elaborate on this statement?  To put it in context, this line is embedded in a section where there is a momentary switch from prose to poetry: “I’m afraid prose won’t go deep enough.”  A few lines later “And yet I go on in prose.”  You suggest limitations of prose but a choice to continue in prose.  Or maybe what is necessary is the movement between the two forms within the work?

Alice Notley: “The Book of Dead” contrasts two states, that of Dead and that of Day.  Day is what we have generally agreed life is; Dead is a world where boundaries are erased.  It resembles dreams and is where the ghouls live.Poetry is more like Dead than like Day, but prose is more useful for describing what goes on in Dead — how it works.  Prose is more useful for flat and general statement.  Poetry tends to abolish time and present experience as dense and compressed.  Prose is society’s enabler, it collaborates with it in its linearity.  A poem sends you back into itself repeatedly, a story leads you on.

Browne: I am especially fascinated with your statement “A poem sends you back into itself repeatedly, a story leads you on.” 

Crossing the andes — 2004 — with an excerpt from Diane Rothenberg’s journal (redux)

Jerome Rothenberg, Cecilia Vicuña, Nicanor Parra Photo by Francis Cincotta
Jerome Rothenberg, Cecilia Vicuña, Nicanor Parra Photo by Francis Cincotta

The Andes crossing was part of my reading trip with Cecilia Vicuña through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, & Brazil. Our other companions were Diane Rothenberg, the photographer & filmmaker Francis (Frank) Cincotta, & Ariane Braillard. Besides Cincottas photographs & films, the only records of the crossing are my series of poems (later published in Ram Devinenis Ratapallax) & Diane Rothenbergs ongoing journal, both excerpted below.

for Cecilia Vicuña

La Difunta Correa

 She died & from
her breasts
her newborn babe
sucked life.
Her sanctuary
at the Inca’s lake
still fills
the flattened earth.