A chance to respond informally to the content of the How2 journal. We are interested in comments and reactions to work that you find here and encourage you to respond to and to extend the questions and debates which interest you in our latest issue and in material contained in our extensive archive. We welcome further discussions of modernist and innovative poetry by women that you feel are relevant to our concerns.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ecopoetics Postcard: “The "Outside Us": Woman as Landscape” by Addie Tsai

Yeats once wrote that for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us. Yet, what happens when man is raised with a kind of entitled position to state that women are part of the “outside us”? In other words, the crisis of eco-feminism, for me, is that women are often, unspokenly, implicitly, considered a part of the landscape. Whether through exploitation, subjectification, degradation, throughout many cultures, women exist as thing to be defined by man. And as a woman born of an American mother and a Chinese father, also as exploited through the exoticism of the half-breed, the hybrid, the born of both lands but neither native, neither claimed as one’s own. And additionally, as a woman born a twin, also exploited through the subject-object crisis of that thing, those things, which are twinned: twin beds, twin engines, twin jets, duplicate images, Doublemint Gum, the Bopsey Twins, carbon copies, a pair of any two objects that are, in every detail, the same.

In general terms, I am most interested in composing (and reading) a poetics that merges the object with the subject without any clear distinction. In my own consciousness as both person being perceived and perceiver, I have found the boundaries between the two blurred and merging. I could spend years knowing a person as an individual, outside of my racial lines, outside of my gender-specific distinctions, outside of my twinning. Yet, the moment any of those elements were introduced alongside me, suddenly there I changed from [she] to [it], from self-contained to open for discussion and comparison. In my work, I attempt to force that merging of the natural/physical world and the emotional interior of the speaker—that seems to be an honest portrayal of eco-poetics as it relates to the human condition.

This postcard forms part of the forthcoming feature on Ecopoetics in the next issue of HOW2.

Ecopoetics Postcard: “Returning to the Meadow” by Anna Reckin

One Mid-Western spring – the kind of spring that’s all-but summer, when snow-thaw and lilac seem surreally close to one another, I read Robert Duncan’s ‘Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’, and writing and thinking about writing has not been the same for me since.

Most of all, it let me work with landscape: landscape as metaphor, landscape as poem, a poem that can be walked through as if it were a green grassy space. The more I work with and within Olson and Duncan’s composition by field, as a writer and as a scholar, the more central it becomes to me. Its insistence on the primacy of space: the space of a page, the space of a field, two- and three-dimensional space and the proprioceptive as basics for accessing memory and imagination; and its understanding of sites that are open, exploratory, playful, but at the same time bristling with material resistances: historical, political, environmental, linguistic. Whose meadow? Who gets to walk there? Is the water table rising or falling? What happens when it floods? What does it look like from the edge, from the middle, next to the watercourse? What’s its relationship with the nearest settlement? Idealized construct or part of a material economy? Margin or meeting-place? Mid, met, mediating – Duncan’s juxtaposition of ‘meadow’ and ‘made’ is especially resonant for thinking about language.

As a metaphor that’s also a form, it released me into a poetry that seemed possible, true (so far as poetry is ever ‘true’), unsentimental. Reluctant – for all the reasons Kathleen Fraser and others have set out to let a poem’s sayings be from ‘a me’ to the outside, a monologue without a stage, I found in Duncan’s work and those who followed radical permission: a place where if there’s an I, she’s produced by a space, emergent or forced out, haunting, or ‘heard off’, from somewhere in the wings. Sure, she has a viewpoint, but ‘who’s telling the story’ is less important than where it’s happening, the cry can’t be prised apart from the wilderness.

When I started to look for ways to theorize this and connect it with other ways of looking at spatiality, however, I drew a blank. So many of the main theorists of spatiality are interested only, it seems, in urban space – very often in constructions of North American urban space that ignore or are set up in contradistinction to a ‘rural’ that can be labelled (and stigmatized) as ‘pastoral’. Retrograde, conservative, escapist. What I end up wanting to work with (creatively and as theoretical construct) is a meadow that can be a field and/or a city square, a contact zone manifest in soundscape, in performance, in marks on a page. A field whose edges keep folding back in; a field I keep finding (myself) in.

This postcard forms part of the forthcoming feature on Ecopoetics in the next issue of HOW2.

Ecopoetics Postcard: “Modern Pastorals” by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa

A modern day eco-feminist "pastoral" poem goes something like this:

We'll hang on
to what proved useful

Eggs are full
of flame retardant

(from "Headline Song" by Armantrout,
2005, p. 94)


Noah's ark wrecked, a wreath on reefs
untallied ho and compass clatch
insurgent, strategic mass proctored
by priests of weed and wrack, full
fathom strive to earn this infamy,
president pretzeled in Bosnia tank

(from "Safe Haven" in Schultz,
2000, p. 54)


and daggers sloughed off
as evidence of old, if imagined,
wars against spirit or self--
lost in the high grass that
dissolved ages hence, however
strait our gates and warm

(from "Baudelaire's Knee", in Schultz, 2000, p. 45)

As in Baudelaire's "Reve parisien":

Et le ciel versait des tenebres
Sur ce triste monde engourdi

Harriet Tarlo, analyzing a portion of Rosmarie Waldrop's Lawn of Excluded Middle, one of the books that prompted me to start writing poetry again, observes:

Certainly when we follow the 'logic' of the piece, we
find, as we often do in women's experimental writings,
that it is thwarted, just as the female speaker is in her
quest here.
(Tarlo, 2000, p. 252)

Prominent for me here is the word "thwarted" -- because it seems to capture well the feeling I have when writing in recent years, or perhaps the impetus or impulse for my writing [anything] at all, as a human struggling not to be swallowed up . . . .

Schultz quotes an email from Charles Bernstein:

. . . in the wake of September 11, I felt a continued
commitment to poetry, to poetics and indeed to teaching.
If anything, 9/11 made me feel an intensified sense
of the relevance of the office of poetry. Not the
demeaning sense of poetry as 'comforting' in a time
of crisis . . . I mean poetry as a way of thinking in, around,
and through 'the real,' and in particular, a way of going
beyond the deafeningly deceptive representations of
'reality' provided by the massed media.

(Schultz, 2005, p. 211)

Repeated televised versions of the events of 9-11 traumatized me as I watched this for me at first seemingly surreal film from afar in my living room in Japan (I had a similar feeling watching the breaking news of the sarin gas [Aum Shinrikyo] subway incident here both because journalists did not yet understand what the events were that they were reporting and the use of the word "sarin" confounded me as initially I assumed it could be an ordinary word of Japanese I had not yet learned...). A student of mine was a 9/11 eyewitness in New York; the song lyrics he wrote in English in my creative writing class upon returning to Japan haunt me still, as do poems such as Maxine Kumin's “The Beheadings” published in the November/December 2005 American Poetry Review:

After they sawed through Nicholas Berg's neck
with an inadequate knife while he screamed,
after the heads of David Pearl
and Richard Johnson were detached
in midthought, in terror but
caught alive on a grainy video, what
did their stored oxygen enable them to mouth

and some of the poems published in, e.g. the all female anthology A Chorus of Peace, such as "War Photograph" by Kate Daniels which begins:

A naked child is running
along the path toward us,
her arms stretched out,
her mouth open,
the world turned to trash
behind her

. . . even a poem of Margaret Atwood called “A Women's Issue” in her Selected Poems II: 1976-1986, which, after describing incidents of female genital multilation and rape, comments:

You'll notice what they have in common
is between the legs. Is this
why wars are fought?

While my own teaching and writings pre-9/11 dealt with gender, war and environmental destruction, post-9/11 it has often seemed difficult to teach or write about anything else. I have found myself almost desperately seeking out writings by, most especially, feminist female poets, innovative as well as sometimes more stylistically conventional, that engage such topics as the effects of patriarchy and capitalism on the ecosphere, including war and rape, war and environmental destruction, war and notions of masculinity/femininity, including works connected to wars earlier in the world's history, such as Japanese female poet's works connected to the second world war and Japanese feminist issues:

People bore children
and the children went to war
when they came back
the children bore children--
there are children everywhere.
But the women, they simply bathe.
It will all be over soon
perhaps the grass will grow
and people will die in the grass

(from “Will You Marry Me?” by Taeko Tomioka,

Because I felt too full of rage listening to President Bush's 'logic' during his televised addresses to the public attempting to justify war, I had to go read them later on the internet after calming down. Yet examining such texts seems to fuel the almost involuntary habit of writing as imperfect antidote to the "massed media" and patriarchal control of the ecosphere.

While the avant garde is frequently linked to a rejection of patriarchy, and realism and formalism to (political) conservatism / the political right, poets might exercise caution -- to avoid imitating devices of oversimplification and divisiveness used by politicians. Spahr has written:

Lyric is not and never has been a simplistic genre,
despite its seeming innocence. It is only recently,
after modernism, that it has gotten its bad name
for being traditional, for being romantic in the derisive

(in Rankine & Spahr, 2002, p. 1)

Yet in Belsey (2002) can be found a succinct statement summarizing an idea treated in great detail in books such as Poggioli's "The Theory of the Avant-Garde" published in English in 1968:

The avant-garde is not just a matter of style. Because
it poses questions, it undermines all certainties,
including the certainty that you possess the truth--
and are entitled to kill people in its name.

(July 19, 2007)

Works Cited:

Armantrout, R. “Headline song” (poem). In J. Goldman and L. Scalapino (eds).
War and Peace 2. Oakland: O Books, 2005.

Atwood, M. “A Women's Issue” (poem) In Margaret Atwood. Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New, 1976-1986. Boston: Mariner Books, 1987.

Baudelaire, C. From “Reve parisien” (poem). In Les fleurs du mal/Flowers of evil (p. 52). Trans. G. Dillon and E. St. Vincent Millay. New York: Washington Square Press, 1962.

Belsey, C. Poststructuralism: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Daniels, K. “War photograph” (poem). In A chorus for peace. M. Arnold et al, eds. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press 2002.

Kumin, M. “The beheadings” (poem). American Poetry Review (November/December 2005).

Poggioli, R. The theory of the avant-garde. Trans. G. Fitzgerald. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Rankine, C. and Spahr, J. American women poets in the 21st century. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

Schultz, S. A poetics of impasse in modern and contemporary American poetry. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005.

Schultz, S. “Baudelaire's knee” (poem). In Aleatory allegories. Applecross: Salt Publishing, 2000.

Schultz, S. “Safe haven” (poem). In Aleatory allegories. Applecross: Salt Publishing, 2000.

Tarlo, H. `A she even smaller than me`: gender dramas of the contemporary avant-garde. In Mark, A. and Rees-Jones, D. Contemporary women's poetry: reading/writing/practice. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

Tomioka, T. “Will you marry me?” (poem). In other side river. Trans. L. Lowitz and M. Aoyama. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1995.

This postcard forms part of the forthcoming feature on Ecopoetics in the next issue of

Ecopoetics Postcard: Susanna Fry

I don’t think it’s quite a conscious thing. I don’t think it’s quite an unconscious thing.

I am fascinated with layers to my work, layers in the world, the way things build upon each other and form bigger things. I create a work in a series of sittings, walkings, lookings, touchings, starings. I then melt them all together. One of the things that sticks with me from my college courses in eco-feminism is the traditional sense of dualism that our contemporary world adheres to. I grew up in a very black and white family. A family that ran on logic. I believed that there was only one right way to do something. One right way to behave. One right way to look. I still struggle with this idea. I’ve spent many years wandering around looking for someone / something to guide me; to show me the way. However, when it comes to writing poetry I abandon this dualism eagerly. I do not want to try to fit into a certain structure or shape. I strive to be as inclusive as I can, allowing strange images to play off each other and form into even stranger ones. I am into multiplication, exponents, and divisions. I think of my poems as collections or sacks of stolen things.

How can my world not be seen as female, if I am the female seeing it?

As a feminist and a poet I am able to see the intersection of the two as a possible eco-poetics. I am constantly looking to the world for answers. I am constantly alone. There is no answer I keep trying to remind myself. The world backs me up with its proud silence. To the woman looking for answers this is a very powerful conclusion. My work takes the form of air, lists of corner store debris, birds’ feathers. I could compare my work with words to my garden. Once I start digging more and more items surface; rusted metal scraps, doorknobs, Sunkist soda bottles. I refuse to see this as an answer but rather as the initial question.

Allowing it to justify itself.

Time is very important to my writing. Letting an image sit with me over a period of time. As a poet my priority is to not only speak through images but also with them, to have authority but to also be submissive to things like wind, love, electricity. This complicated and fluid action is my own personal eco-poetics. I don’t know that a poet could say that they were not influenced by their surroundings. It appears impossible.

This postcard forms part of the forthcoming feature on Ecopoetics in the next issue of HOW2.

Ecopoetics Postcard: Cara Benson: “it’s high time...”

writing is two things simultaneously. writing is itself. writing is, well, then, writing. so in writing itself the writing issued a statement. this statement. it is said, anyway. the said saying so. so that it has been said, but not yet because it isn’t always that the simultaneity is concurrent with the spontaneity of utterance. not all utterance is written. nor, vice versa. in other words, what is said is not always written, and what is written not spoken. is it thought? if it is thought, as verb and noun, is that heard? if a word is uttered in a mind and there is no hand clapping for the tree that was felled, what were woods? how does thought precede word? precede wood? does a tree clap when people fall? what are those flapping leaves but an audience? if the audience does not clap, did you bomb? if so, are your words missiles? is this praxis or pragmatics?

if the word is the beginning, the begging is brought empty handed. how can you clap with your hands full of prayers? if you are holding hands with other hands, who will clap? were you listening? or thinking yourself? who can listen, write, think, speak, clap, or enact manifest presence (an epitaph) so simply spoken situationally? that said, it’s time for breakfast. they flew my eggs in from utah.

This postcard forms part of the forthcoming feature on Ecopoetics in the next issue of HOW2.