Place-relation ecopoetics: A collective glossary

A work in progress

Northwestern U.S. Forest Fire Smoke Sunset, 8/24/15 (Pullman WA)
Northwestern U.S. Forest Fire Smoke Sunset, 8/24/15 (Pullman WA). Photo by Linda Russo

As I write this, the largest fire complex in Washington State history is burning about 160 miles to my northwest, and several other large fires burn in bordering states and Canadian provinces. Someone just tweeted a photo of the "brown butter" air in nearby Clarkston to the live 'Northwest Wildfires Discussion' on my local radio station. President Obama has declared a state of emergency; Governor Jay Inslee has called the fires a “slow motion disaster” and the "new normal." Local volunteers, the National Guard, active-duty U.S. troops, and crews from Australia and New Zealand have joined on-the-ground management teams; Longshoremen from Seattle have volunteered to move supplies. Our warm, nearly snowless winter is partly to blame, and the unprecedented intensity of the fires is being attributed to global warming. Some fear the fires will continue to burn until it snows; some fear we can expect little in the way of precipitation again this year. The uncertainty is disconcerting, to say the least. I don’t know how to segue into the introduction I wrote for this glossary less than a week ago. I do know that what the terms gathered below represent - attunement to unfolding earth-realities and reverence for the many living things caught up in them - help me navigate that uncertainty. 

If we define ‘ecopoetry’ as works that address ecological concerns, and more particularly, in our moment, attempt to account for human activities; and if we begin to list terms that serve as ecopoetic lenses through which to focus and configure the emerging relations and effects of the Anthropocene – activism, bioregionalism, consumerism, ecology, environment(al)(ism), extinction, habitat loss, industiralization, land use, localism, production, sustainability, urbanism, wilderness/wildlife, etc. – it becomes clear that ecopoetry describes a wide and rich and varied terrain, and that, taken together, the writing inscribed under this banner is (among other things) a monument to human responsiveness and invention. Indeed, over the past decade there’s been an ecopoetic blossoming in multiple print and on-line anthologies (or magazine features), new eco-literary magazines, conferences large and small, and myriad individual poetic works and collaborations from various points: North America, the Pacific Islands, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Iceland, to name a few.

For my final commentary I wanted to feature how different poets currently approach ecopoetics and place - how they encounter, comprehend, and operate within their geographies and ecologies. I use the term "place-relation" (in contrast to "place-based") in part because one might want to refrain from pre-determining what is meant by “place,” what is encountered in/as “place,” and with that, the agency of that which encounters/is encountered. (A great way to begin exploring such notions is Eric Magrane’s “Various Instructions for the Practice of Poetic Field Research.”) To my mind, “place-relation” embraces the potential for new constituencies to arise; it acknowledges the evolving nature of correspondences formed within perceived and known shifts in biosphere events. Place may be taken as a geographical “base from which” at the same time as the poem rethinks place as a site of human activities (including making poems) and nonhuman activities, and a history of these, and their possible futures. 

I asked poets Marthe Reed and Christine Leclerc if they thought it would be interesting to ask others to generate terms for a collective glossary, and they said yes, so together we invited contributions. We requested that contributors provide a term (or create a term for a concept) that helps them configure or elaborate methods/processes/problems of engagement, through lived mindbodies, of lived places, and we requested they provide an “entry” on the term – sketches, ideas, notions, intuitions. Below, listed alphabetically by term, are the 15 contributions we received. 

Some terms describe conditions (“Improvement,” “Relaxation Time,” “Woveness”), some a response to conditions (“ecopoethos,” e.g.), some both (“B-RAD,” e.g.); some terms describe new modes of engagement (“Að jökla,” “geopoetics”), others reinscribe old modes (“path,” “Phylogeny,” “Walking”), while still others suggest we see engagement anew (“everyhere” “echoherence”); one term ghosts acts of appropriation (“IOYAIENE”), while another frames a response to acts of appropriation (“Biotariat”), and another reminds us of a genealogy for “ecopoetics” through indigenous practices (“Indigenous ecopoetics”). 

These entries are reproduced here using the author’s original diction, capitalization, and punctuation. I want to sincerely thank my collaborators and all the contributors for their work.

Experimentation with terms/practices and futher additions are encouraged. 

Að jökla (IPA: äːð̠ jœkʰl̥ɐ): The neologism að jökla takes Icelandic verb form and applies it to the word for glacier (jökull). This follows the behaviour of Icelandic seasonal verbs such as að vora (to become spring) and að vetra (to become winter), signalling metamorphic transition as their action. The glacier-verb neologism traces transition; in the case of current usage, it implies a flux in mass, leaning heavily towards transitional disappearance. The creation of this action word also allows for empathetic embodiment of glacier experiences.

Encouraged as a loanword to languages outwith Icelandic. (a rawlings)

Biotariat: the political “class” appropriate to the Anthropocene. The idea that, once we can perceive the total impact of capitalism on life itself (this moment in which all biological life—as both “labour” and material “resource”—is exploited for the production of surplus value—to the point at which the entire biosphere faces exhaustion and collapse), just then does it become necessary to develop a new political consciousness and new revolutionary subjectivity on the basis of life as such. Hence a reframing of struggles in terms of inter-systemic and inter-species responses and responsibilities that recognize “the commons” as a system of ecological sustainability, writ large, into which human social reproduction must fit. The proposition of the biotariat calls a new collective identity into being, a new common subjectivity formed by life itself, which we are only beginning to find out how to access and enable agentically. The poetics of the biotariat is yet to be realized. (Stephen Collis)

B-RAD: Bio-Regional Attachment Disorder: Attachment disorder characterized by dysphoric response to coexistence in biodiverse context w/ inabilities to dwell in cosmic awareness w/ creative agency ≈

Treatment: Walks ≈ Local waterway/woods ≈ Naturalist training (see: Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshop) ≈ hiking ≈ camping ≈ beloved(s) ≈ wildlife (refer to raccoon @ Desoto State Park cabin #8 ≈ fox @ Rickwood Caverns State Park campsite #13) ≈ Improvement when power totems & metaphysical agents emerge as vultures, ticks ≈

Cross reference: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in. Take responsibility from there” Gary Snyder ≈ See also: Mary Daly: “Why indeed must God be a noun? Why not a verb?” (Heidi Lynn Staples)

echoherence: Logical or biological interconnection seen through a lens of ecological situatedness. Example: She leaned on a Larch and the shadow they cast was an echoherent. (Christine Leclerc)

Ecopoethos:a neologism of three roots, eco, poesis, and ethos, positing a “household” disposition, wherein oikos has neither border nor limit and disposition denotes ethical relation (akin to Gary Snyder’s earth house hold): both creation and creative mode. Yi Fu Tuan’s description of topophilia— “The affective bond between people and place” (1974: 4)—arising out of “experiences mostly fleeting and undramatic, repeated day after day over a span of years” (1977: 183) and Edward S. Casey’s idea of implacement in landscape painting—the person observing the landscape become “integral” to it, rather than outside (2002: 29)—are foundational to ecopoethos. When habitation moves beyond a passive residence upon a particular ground to ethical relationship via the topophilic sense, being, making, and ethical relation become integrated. (Marthe Reed)

everyhere: arises when anywhere is considered a vital ‘here’ through a situated affective human attentiveness. Describes both a multitude of such dispositions (in many heres) and the possibility of invoking multiple subjectivities in a vital here (hence, “everyhere,” as opposed to “anyhere”). Everyhereness relies on a specific body-regionalism that arises from bioregional attunement (the acknolwedgement of one’s here as a bio-region, or “life-place,” worthy of long-term commitment). Corresponds with poetic embeddedness or embodied poesis. Continuous with a range of healing gestures. (Linda Russo)

geopoetics: From the Greek: ‘geo’ (earth) and ‘poesis’ (making). Literally, earth-making. Critical human geography helps one think about scale. Geopoetics might be mulch or compost or the building of earthworks to collect stormwater runoff and plant the rain in the desert. Consider land art, new environmental art, permaculture practices, gardening. Or, consider the Anthropocene and climate change as geopoesis—and hence, to return to scale, geopoetics is a means to consider appropriate technology and political ecology, and poetry is technology as well. A “quest for wiser ways of dwelling” wrote Anne Buttimer. “What we’re concerned with is a new world-sensation,” wrote Kenneth White. Also, speculative more-than-human geopoetics: a reflective and refractive earth-making that imagines and speculates on alter-subjectivities. (eric magrane)

improvement: Snaggled on the rhetoric of improvement, understood as a network through which swarm other terms (like swarm and network).

Improvement used to colonize and dispossess, walking peoples and nomadic intent, for example, and nimby approaches to homeland that differ from capitalizing resources for exploitative profit.

For improvement read renewal, and nostalgia, for Boym “the fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, [that] have a direct impact on the realities of the future.”

A nested term inside these lines of thought, the older rus in urbs creates illusions of countryside by building a garden within a city. (cris cheek)

Indigenous ecopoetics foregrounds how the primary themes in native texts express the idea of interconnection and interrelatedness of humans, nature, and other species; the centrality of land and water in the conception of indigenous genealogy, identity and community; and the importance of knowing the indigenous histories of a place. Moreover, indigenous ecopoetics shows how native writers employ ecological images, metaphors, and symbols to critique colonial and Western views of nature as an empty, separate object that exists to be exploited for profit. Lastly, indigenous ecopoetics re-connects people to the sacredness of the earth, honors the earth as an ancestor, protests against further environmental degradation, and insists that land (and literary representations of land) are sites of healing, belonging, resistance, and mutual care. (Craig Santos Perez)

IOYAIENE: One can imagine a person, a Karankawa person (maybe near Laredo or maybe on the coast of the Golfo de México) some time around 1828 reciting a number of words to a Mexican interpreter for Juan Luis Berlandier (who might be Jean Louis Berlandier), who scribbled the words down on a paper. This paper was later sold by Berlandier's wife as part of a collection to a U.S. American general who was occupying Matamoros in the mid-nineteenth century. We can imagine that list of words somehow traveling to London and being acquired by the British Museum at Sotheby’s in 1913. We can imagine Herbert Landar finding this list of words and then reproducing it in an article in a linguistics journal in 1968. Now, we can read this word being re-published here in 2015 on a poetry and poetics website. And yet, in the space between 1828 and 2015 the meaning of the word has been lost. Perhaps this word (its sound, its smell, its weight, its dirt, its wetness) might be a map back to its signified, all that has been lost. (John Plueker) 

path (after G.F. Dutton and Frank Fraser Darling):

a path should merge into the wild on either side
a path holds the foreground and assembles vision, just as far as the horizon
paths are interludes in-between episodes
a path is not static – it wanders past Time
a path is never straight, no matter how flat the country
trust a deer path over a human path
plan a path with broad feet & narrow eyes
(Alec Finlay)

Phylogeny, Phylogeny, coined by Ernst Haeckel (think drawings of diatoms, shells, jellyfish, spiders, etc.), 1866, to describe the organismal lineages we all passed through; phyla (φυλή, tribe, stem, race, branch) geny (born).  Troubled by Haeckel’s repugnant ideas of a hierarchy of “races.” Wrest it from his hands and give it back to all the animals and plants — we all passed through roots and branches of the same tree, beginning somewhere with a few molecules combusting (as Darwin suspected, as genome data confirms).  In the mid-60s, Lynne Margulis pioneered “symbiogenesis”: we came about not just through competition but through acts of symbiosis. We carry evidence of species merger in our cells, of species relation in almost every structure we daily rely upon.  Lobefin fishes did protolungs, acorn worms might have done something like a heart, amphibians did shoulders, jellyfish saw first for us. If we let phyla be taken over by its bedmate phylla (leaves, petals, sprouts, sheaves, sheets of paper), we clear a mute space where we are all tangled in and leafing from the same roots.  (If we take it further, to its homonymic neighbor, philo, we fall into love.) (Eleni Sikelianos)

Relaxation Time has to do with how extinction processes occur. When a species is under pressure, their survival might continue for a lengthy duration before they succumb to extinction. This process of time delay is referred to as “relaxation time”. This time based understanding of existence relates intimately to the Anthropocene—a time in which we are currently undergoing a massive loss of bio diversity. What are the threshold conditions for human animals and all other animals? (Brenda Iijima)

Walking: Movement through an environment whether sinuous or along a rational transect that opens space up to time and embeds time in space. The mode of transport scaled to the human body. The non-directed activity that introduces us to our neighbors, with mutual opportunities for eye contact, smell, sound, communication. An extension of writing, on foot and in the air. Beyond the “house” of oikos, walking, writing and/or drawing are the beginning of (human) ecology; otherwise, we are just dealing with one another’s needs from the outside, with little opportunity for non-coercive exchanges within a commons. Walking makes a line, tracing the irreversible, time-bound condition of the human metabolism (cf. Richard Long). Like a transect or (famously) Thoreau’s railroad cutting, walking reveals at the same time that it encloses. (Jonathan Skinner)

Woveness: Be-cause we, worlds, words are “of green stuff woven,” seeded, fleeting, tendrilled, tendreled—us, this flux we freeze-frame. Our sensing, our saying severs or sutures. Be-cause language lives between breath and flesh, it can bind back (ligature, religion) inner/outer, past (root)/future (rot, seed), thought-map/felt-ground underfoot. Suture, ligature—when artwork is words, it’s a weaving. Voices: visceral, animal; tech and text. Context: the world is woven (too close to see). Poetics as weaving, seeing the seams, feeling a way along the threads, the web. Learning how we are made as we make. Cicada-call, cellphone, sound through skin this August night. (Gillian Parrish)