Ecopoetics: a Column
First, consider this poem:
by Michael Radich
That plastic bug, thrust close, gave our little girl a startled fright!
A busker ends his drumming; a burst of applauding wings flaps the pigeons to the sky.
A butterfly, red leather gored by a lepidopterizing chopstick, lights upon her black twist hair.
That tree is always there.
The curtain falls.
What is the surprise hinted at in the title of this poem? The bug that startles the girl? The pigeons that startle at just the right moment, seeming to applaud the busker? The way a poet breathes some life (or the moment of death) into the red leather butterfly in the little girl’s hair? The fact that the poem is not just a poem, but a performance on which the curtain must eventually fall?
Or the fact that thattree is always there?
If a poem is built, at least in part, to shake us out of our everyday stupor and wake us up, a bit, to the possibility of something unusual, then this penultimate line could seem a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, “That tree is always there” doesn’t seem surprising at all. It is nothing if not predictable. And yet its placement in the poem, its context, is anything but predictable. What is it doing there, among these more-or-less remarkable things? Is it there simply for contrast, the relieving shadow allowing the rest of the poem to pop? Or does it, in its strangeness, actually pop, actually surprise, more than any other line?
Even the things we take for granted sometimes emerge from the middle distance to become remarkable again, if only for an instant.
ABOUT THIS COLUMN:
As Forest Gander has noted, the language of poetry is already one step away from the capitalist and state-centered language of human dominance, a landscape ruled not by the logic of material gain, but by unexpected associations, balletic leaps and twists and resistances away from linearity and simplification—which is all to say, poetry is already ecological. These poems, garnered from a range of journal publications, move one step further into a realm of active questioning, dreaming, identification, and playing with our preconceived notions of what nature is and how we may relate to it.
This column will look at poetry which challenges our conventional assumptions about the natural world, particularly the central position of human beings in relation to other living denizens with whom we share this planet, and the abiotic environment, including water and air. In other words, poems that choose to realize nature’s inherent value as part of humanity’s inherent value, and its right to thrive alongside our own right to thrive.