02/2/16

W. S. Merwin as Gardener

Urtica Dioica Stinging Hair, from Wikimedia Commons

Urtica Dioica Stinging Hair, from Wikimedia Commons

One characteristic that becomes apparent about Merwin in his prose, such as The Lost Upland, and in his poetry, such as his most recent book of poetry, The Moon before Morning, is that he loves to garden. In a way, though, the word “garden,” seems to hardly contain what he is doing now on his 19 acre palm forest on the island of Maui. There he is nurturing over 2700 individual palm trees. For lack of a better word, I will use the term “garden,” but I must use it an expanded sense. He is creator and keeper of a forest that contains one of the largest collections of palms on the earth.

Let me begin by looking at “The Rose Beetle” from The Rain in the Trees. The subject of the poem is a Chinese Rose Beetle, an invasive species that is thought to have come to Hawaii in the larval stage in the soil of plants being shipped over 100 years ago from China, Taiwan, or neighboring areas. It is native to Japan and Taiwan. Merwin gives us its history:

It is said that you came from China
but you never saw China
you eat up the leaves here

your ancestors travelled blind in eggs
you arrive just after dark from underground
with a clicking whir in the first night. (78)

The beetle is associated with darkness and night; it arrives blindly. It is not a creature of the light and the damage it does is extensive. It aggressively eats the leaves of countless plants, making a lace-work of them. Merwin notes that the native Hawaiian hibiscus, abutilons, and royal ilima fall victim to this species. But the poem, at the end, does not demonize the insect. The poet rather matter-of-factly states that the beetle makes “an arid net” of the leaves; it turns them into “sky / like the sky long ago over China” (78). A lesser poet would not have ended the poem that way. But Merwin sees that the beetle had its place somewhere. Humans brought the beetle to Hawaii. There is no need to vilify the insect. It no doubt has natural predators in its homeland, and it was an act of human ignorance that brought the beetle into Hawaii. As a point of comparison, Merwin makes note of other imports to Hawaii, such as the innocuous eggplant and strawberry. It was something of a bit of luck that these plants did not become problem invasives. Merwin shows us in the poem that as gardener he sees that the cultivated world is intricate, and nature always has the upper hand.

And there are times when Merwin is able to revel in the garden, when he is able to truly celebrate what is being grown there. Poems such as “High Fronds” from The Moon before Morning exhibit this praise. Another poem from the volume, “Urticophilia,” celebrates what to many is simply a nuisance plant, the nettle. The title derives from the genus name of nettles, “urtica,” and, obviously, “philia,” “to love.” Most people think of nettles as simply a plant with hair-like projections which sting to the touch. Merwin has another perspective:

Oh let me wake where nettles are growing
in the cool first light of a spring morning
the young leaves shining after a night’s rain
a green radiance glistening through them. (69)

The nettles have a “story.” They “open” and discover a “world they know and a season / they inherit” (69). They are part of the “conversation” of people, or perhaps, the conversation of the natural world (69). The poet asks for the “world’s sense” to come to him from the nettles, “my true elders,”

. . . and not from the voices
with something to sell not from the spreading
scar tissue of pavement numbing the flayed earth
not from the latest words of the fast-talkers
to whom the nettles never listen. (69)

Commerce and developers have done their damage; there is a knowledge the poet turns to and that knowledge must come from the living world. Wonder may be found in the lowliest of plants.

These are but two examples of many poems and prose works on the subject that run throughout Merwin’s canon. His love of gardening is documented in that work and in his conservancy in Hawaii and in decades of hands-on labor there that attest to his dedication to the health of the plant world and all that lives there. In one poem from The Vixen, “Present,” the narrator speaks of a woman in France (no doubt) who gives him a gift of mirabelle plums, and how, as the two of them sit on a wall by her garden, she notes how you can see through them. And then they look at them “and each of [them] [holds] up / a small golden plum filled with the summer evening” (21). The trope is perfect for Merwin’s poetry of the garden. The light of the summer evening fills the plums, and it is this light which Merwin sees as he works in his garden.

_______________________

Jane Frazier
Lincoln University of Missouri

_______________________

 

Works Cited

Merwin, W. S. The Moon before Morning. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, Print.

—. The Rain in the Trees. New York: Knopf, 1988. Print.

—. The Vixen. New York: Knopf, 1996. Print.

 

 

 

08/28/15

Tropes, Translations, and the Mantra “To Listen”

Image from the Merwin Conservancy

Image from the Merwin Conservancy

Trope from the Greek tropos meaning a turning.

In Trickster Made This World, Lewis Hyde explores how the trickster is a polytropic shapeshifter (see 52–54), turning, turning, and turning again into some new form not unlike Proteus who shapeshifted into a “whiskered lion’s shape, / a serpent then; a leopard; a great boar; / then sousing water; then a tall green tree” (Homer 66).

To experience a trope, then, is to experience holding on to Proteus. In my teaching, I find myself using the above discussion, more and more, as a point of entry for students into the vast landscape of poetry and poetics. Sadly, many readers want a polytropic poem to stop turning. They want to defeat Proteus, and then have Proteus divulge the “answers” to any question asked (not unlike Menelaus and his men).

But this is a mirage of knowledge. I don’t think we can “get” a poem by making it sit still, for to “get” a poem, one must continue holding on.

As W. S. Merwin returns to the mantra of listening throughout his oeuvre, he finds new tropes and new ways of listening. In the essays that precede the sections of Selected Translations, he shares how translation enriched his poetics of listening. “The work of translation,” he writes, “did teach, in the sense of forming, and making available, ways of hearing” (171).

With all this in mind, I recently discovered one of Merwin’s translations, “Water pouring from clouds” (257), from the Sanskrit (12th century or earlier)—a language that readily lends itself to discovering new ways of hearing. As a colleague shared with me, a Sanskrit chant sends vibrations to locations of the teeth and bone structure not needed when speaking English words. Translation, then, becomes the impossible task of turning a language’s sounds into another. Another way of looking at it, though, sees the translator holding onto Proteus as one way of hearing shapeshifts into some new form.

The content of “Water pouring from clouds” includes some tropes (turnings) that further discover new ways of hearing.

[In lieu of Fair Use, I provide an audio file of my reading of the poem. Pauses indicate line breaks.]

 

The palm leaves become ears, and the forest listens, in its own way, to the vibrations of rain. And then, by implication the leaves turn specifically into elephant ears—or elephants could be in the forest, listening as well. The metaphor is apt—large leaves, large pachyderm ears—but I am interested more in the ways elephants write their own texts of sonorous vibrations that travel through air and along the jungle ground, and how those vibrations enter the ears of other elephants and make their way into the hippocampus (which is larger than a human’s hippocampus), and therefore into memory and dream. The trope suggests that forests, too, listen like elephants but in their own way, which is an idea one might dismiss before reading more on the fascinating findings surrounding plant intelligence.

We cannot know, fully, what it is like to listen like an elephant, or like a palm tree, or like a forest. Some of us (like me), do not know what it is like to listen to the vibrations of Sanskrit resonating through my jaw bone.

But by holding onto Proteus through these many turnings, space opens up to consider, imagine, and perhaps discover new ways of listening, which is one of Merwin’s lifelong mantras. Indeed, in Selected Translations he writes “It is love, I imagine, more than learning, that may eventually make it possible to be aware of the living resonance before it has words” (11).

His poetry and his translations invite us to make the mantra—that search for the living resonance—one of ours as well.

 

Works Cited

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Print.

Lewis Hyde. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. Print.

Merwin, W. S. Selected Translations: 1948-2011. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2013. Print.

 

 

 

 

06/25/15
Even Though the Whole World Is Burning

Even Though the Whole World Is Burning | ASLE 2015

Even Though the Whole World Is BurningI am very excited and honored to be introducing Even Though the Whole World Is Burning at the ASLE conference tomorrow (Friday, June 26th). We just heard from Anna Tsing and Donna Haraway on “Tunneling in the Chthulucene: Stories for Resurgence on a Damaged Planet.” They suggest other ways of understanding and conceptualizing and responding to the “Anthropocene,” one of which involves the fall out from plantations. Perhaps the “plantationocene,” they suggest, is a better way of seeing human impact. Plantations are fertile grounds for feral fungi that wreak havoc. In this context, Merwin’s work as a planter is most necessary and crucial at finding better ways at living on this shared planet. The documentary explores how he took 18 acres of a denuded pineapple plantation and, over 37 years, turned it into a palm forest of more than 2,700 individual palm trees from 480 different taxonomic species and 900 different horticultural varieties.

As the magnitude of the damaged planet continues to sink into our collective consciousness, his story points toward possible resurgences.

1:30 at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, Moscow, ID

03/24/15

Wendell Berry and W. S. Merwin: Caretakers of the Earth

Search results for merwin blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems to me that Wendell Berry and W. S. Merwin share much in common. They are both essayists and poets (and both ecopoets I must add), they are dedicated environmentalists, and they both take care of a piece of ground, treating them very painstakingly for their preservation for future generations. Berry is a small farmer in Kentucky; Merwin is conservator and gardener of a native palm garden in Hawaii.

In “A Vision” Berry speaks of giving back to the earth and what it means to be a good steward of it. And from that will spring the promise of a rich, sustained land. Through hard work, the hard work of physically tending to the plants, not taking from and abusing the land wholesale for the sake of monetary gain, will sprout the promise of “abundance.”  His promise is this:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, . . . (Selected Poems 102)

Berry lists the richness of this world if we will just preserve it: clear rivers, birdsong, green meadows, springs, and old forests. Berry’s natural world will have families “singing” in the fields.  Whatever is taken from the earth is returned to the earth.  Berry is a farmer on his modest plot in Kentucky who speaks in “Enriching the Earth” of plowing in clover and grass to feed the soil, of planting grains and legumes to be plowed in later when they have grown, thus, to be an organic farmer, as “natural” as possible, and not dependent on the wide array of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and commercial fertilizers used by mainstream agriculture.

Merwin has long been known for his heartfelt ecological positions on many issues, from the protecting of the whales and the diminishing animal species on earth to the preservation of native plants in Hawaii to his concern over our often tainted air and water.  Merwin’s own palm forest that he is restoring had been the victim of logging, erosion, and detrimental agricultural practices (The Merwin Conservancy).  Merwin’s palm collection contains 2,740 individual trees, of more than 400 taxonomic species and 125 unique genera. The collection contains 900 different horticultural varieties. This garden is one of the largest and most diverse palm collections on earth (The Merwin Conservancy). Thus, when he writes in “Garden Notes” of:

a seed in its early age
or a great frond formed
of its high days and nights
looking at the sky
made of daybreak the morning sun
and the whole of daylight (The Moon Before Morning 21)

. . . we know that this is the garden, these are the very plants, he has invested much of his life into.

Merwin’s Conservancy attests to the fact that he wishes to dedicate a part of his life to a parcel of the earth and it shows us that in whatever we do in relation to the earth we can take care too. Berry has long been the small farmer working at odds with and in spite of the agricultural-chemical-industrial complex. Two poets working in small, sustaining ways relative to the forces of commercial agriculture and land development which works most of the time against common sense. These poets simply call for sustainable living.  The earth has long been giving her signals of being scarred and depleted. Berry often speaks of “industrial” agriculture’s depletion of the soil, massive soil erosion, pollution by toxic chemicals, depletion of aquifers, exploitation of cheap labor, genetically modified food, and the list goes on (“Death of the American Family Farm”). The problems are ubiquitous. But some in commercial agriculture are catching on to Berry’s and Merwin’s wisdom. Some land developers are saving native forests and fields on the properties that they put into commercial use. These two poets have for decades been crying out against the metaphor of “the machine,” as Berry puts it, in which the machine believes it owns all.  Nature has two strong voices saying “no” to the machine.

_______________________

Jane Frazier
Lincoln University of Missouri

_______________________

 

Works Cited

Berry, Wendell.  “Death of the American Family Farm.” Organic Consumers Association. Home Page. Organic Consumers Association.  2002. Web. 18 March 2015.

Berry, Wendell.  The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.  Washington: Counterpoint,1998. Print.

Merwin, W. S.  The Moon Before Morning.  Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2014.

The Merwin Conservancy.  The Merwin Palm Collection.  The Merwin Conservancy. 2014. Web.  18 March 2015.

03/10/15

Merwin’s Auditory Imagination

GuernicaLast semester, I had a student who delved into the auditory imagination of Seamus Heaney and T. S. Eliot—an exploration that attuned me once again to the absolute necessity of sounds in all of their elusive and yet primal energy.

During this time, the Merwin Conservancy circulated the following quote on Facebook where Merwin articulates yet another facet of his auditory imagination. It has to do with vowels, grief, and the hunch that language emerged out of elegy:

Poetry’s about what can’t be said. And I think that language emerges out of what could not be said. Out of this desperate desire to utter something, to express something inexpressible. Probably grief. Maybe something else. You know, you see a silent photograph of an Iraqi woman whose husband or son or brother has just been killed by an explosion. And you know that if you could hear, you would be hearing one long vowel of grief. Just senseless, meaningless vowel of grief. And that’s the beginning of language right there.

Inexpressible sound. And it’s antisocial. It’s destructive. It’s utterly painful beyond expression. And the consonants are the attempts to break it, to control it, to do something with it. And I think that’s how language emerged. (Facebook Post)

Merwin feels a tension between vowels and consonants—but we must remember that a vowel is a tone and a rush of air that is not broken by the teeth, or the plosive lips, or the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. Nothing breaks it. Merwin’s description suggests an image of a howling human, overcome with grief, who suddenly slams down on the vowel, clenches it shut with the teeth, only for the howl to break out of the consonants once more.

It reminds me of the shrill tongue of Picasso’s horse.

It also reminds me of one line from Merwin’s “For a Coming Extinction” (Merwin 1:304–305). Elsewhere, I have explored this line (Moe 100); however, the concept of the auditory imagination—charged with Merwin’s discussion of vowels and grief—prompt me to revisit it:

The sea cows the great Auks the gorillas (ln 26)

These three animals stand in for the “irreplaceable hosts” of today’s anthropogenic mass extinction (ln 27). Before, I focused on the silence between each of the three animals, and how the context of the poem charges that silence with anguish and bewilderment at the extinct Auks and the coming extinction of the gorillas and the sea lions. As the anguish settles in, one feels a greater and greater pause. Since Merwin leaves out punctuation, we are left to construct the length and duration of that silence. Should the list use commas?—dashes?—semi-colons?—ellipses?

The sea cows . . .  the Great Auks . . . the gorillas . . . .

I had also explored about how the assonance and alliteration becomes a mere vestige of the alliterative verse of “Leviathan” published earlier in Merwin’s career (Merwin 1:99; see Moe 100 ff.).

However, Merwin’s discussion of vowels and consonants returns us to the grief, the lament, the anguish, and the howl. The ah’s in cOWs and AUks and gorillAs stretch the mouth toward a hOWl—and yet the consonants break the vowel only for it to resurface later in the line. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that when we speak the word howl the diphthong causes our mouth and cheeks to embody once again the gestures of a hOWl.

Isn’t it fascinating that the word howl is one long vowel—one long breath/tone that remains unbroken from the gust of the H to the expansive and tonal diphthong of the OW all unbroken until the tongue lightly touches the gum-line on the back of the top, front teeth? Right at the end of the diphthong, the lips almost close things off, but then the causes one to open the lips slightly right before the tongue ultimately breaks it. Right at that moment, then, the one who listens with his/her mouth can feel the tension Merwin describes between consonants and vowels.

I don’t have the space to substantiate the claim that today’s word “howl” contains a vestige of the gesture of the prelinguistic hOWl, but it goes back to “gesture-speech” theory and how gestures migrated across the semiotic body to the mouth, where breath turned those gestures into speech. That said, I think Merwin is absolutely right that the howl is one of the crucial existential experiences at the origin of poetry.

Merwin’s emphasis on listening drew me in to his poetic world several years ago—and I feel like I am just beginning to faintly hear the depths of the primal sounds in his poetry.

 

Works Cited

Merwin, W. S. The Collected Poems of W. S. Merwin. Ed. J. D. McClatchy. 2 vols. New York: Library of America, 2013. Print.

Moe, Aaron. Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014. Print.

 

 

Creative Commons License

All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://merwinstudies.com.

01/15/15

CFP Merwin and the Anthropocene, Deadline: August 1, 2015

At the turn of the century, the term Anthropocene began gaining traction. Though still not formally accepted, the term suggests that the earth has moved into a new geological epoch due to the impact of human activities. That is, we have so impacted the earth that the human mark is written into its very geology, and will be present for epochs to come.

The Anthropocene, then, presents us with a reconception of our relationship with the earth. Like previous reconceptions (Galileo, Nasa’s photograph of the Earth, Gaia), the Anthropocene prompts us toward an existential grappling with the implications of being human on this earth.

In retrospect, poets like Merwin have been grappling with the implications of the Anthropocene for decades prior to the emergence of the term. Undoubtedly, his work has been seen as environmentally conscious, but the context of the Anthropocene charges that consciousness, intensifying the anguish and yet resolve found in Merwin’s work. To be environmentally conscious does not necessarily mean that one grapples with the implications of the Anthropocene; for that, one must have a sense of geological time, which Merwin does.

We seek essays that explore Merwin’s work as a poet, a planter, an essayist, and/or a translator in the context of the Anthropocene. The following questions are meant to open up (rather than limit) possibilities:

How does the Anthropocene intensify the tension between the pastoral and apocalyptic tropes in Merwin’s work?

At what point does a geological sense of time enter into Merwin’s poetics? How does that sense of time develop?

What is the relationship between the marks of humans upon the earth, extinction, and yet absence of punctuation marks in Merwin’s work?

How does a poetics of listening figure into Merwin’s grappling with the implications of the Anthropocene?

Is there even a fragile, distant hope? If so, is it authentic? If hope is the wrong word, what is the third of fourth facet in Merwin’s work that compels some readers to take-heart?

How does Even Though the Whole World Is Burning further articulate the extent to which Merwin has been grappling with the Anthropocene for decades?

How does Merwin’s work as a translator relate to his grappling with the Anthropocene? Is it an escape? Is it still part of finding a good way to live? How does it matter?

We welcome queries. Submissions due by August 1, 2015.

10/14/14

Tweeting Merwin and Permissions

We have decided to begin tweeting and posting some of Merwin’s lines. Having navigated the complex terrain of permissions and Fair Use, it is important that we do it correctly. Different publishers have different expectations. For the time being, we are only tweeting lines from books published by Copper Canyon Press. Here is their statement regarding posting Merwin in online spaces:

Personal Uses
We encourage certain personal uses—such the “Share This Poem” feature on our website or posting a stanza or two on your blog or Facebook page. These uses do not require specific permission or payment. We do ask that the use be appropriately acknowledged by including the poem title, authors name, and a link to the book, preferably to the listing on www.coppercanyonpress.org.

When we tweet one or two lines, we won’t have the space to provide the link back to the listing on their website. However, when we post something slightly longer on Facebook, we will. We will never post an entire poem or even an entire stanza.

As we post and tweet, we hope readers will ask, “What, for Merwin, constitutes a line of poetry?”–and “How has Merwin’s poetics of a line evolved to what it is today?”

In the interview with Folsom and Nelson, Merwin has said it is a “unit of something” (60); and in the interview with Thompson and Weinert, he has said it is a “unit of energy” (117). Both interviews delve more deeply into the questions surrounding a line. We hope the tweets and posts give readers some space to explore the questions as well.

 

Works Cited

Merwin, W. S., Ed Folsom, and Cary Nelson. “‘Fact Has Two Faces’:  An Interview with W. S. Merwin.” The Iowa Review 13.1 (1982): 30–66. Print.

Merwin, W. S., Jeanie Thompson and Jonathan Weinert. “Raw Shore of Paradise: A Conversation with W. S. Merwin.” Until Everything Is Continuous Again: American Poets on the Recent Work of W.S. Merwin. Ed. Jonathan Weinert and Kevin Prufer. Seattle: WordFarm, 2012. 113–127. Print.

 

 

 

Creative Commons License

All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://merwinstudies.com.

10/10/14
earth

“For Occupation – This -”: The Legacy of Emily Dickinson’s Ecopoetics

earth[I include this post here as I see Merwin to be furthering Dickinson’s ecopoetics.]

In This Compost, Jed Rasula explores how the trope is “poetry’s composting medium” (9). This succinct statement powerfully directs our imagination to see how a recurring image, for instance, folds all previous images back into itself, composting them, and therefore becoming a fecund site full of biological synergy, so to speak.

The term ecopoetics is, in and of itself, a site for composting. Eco from the Greek oikos meaning home/house/hearthPoetics from the Greek poiesis meaning to make. The images lurking in the etymology suggest an interplay between dwelling deeply in language and dwelling deeply in the home of the earth.

Publications such as The Ecopoetry Anthology (2013) and The Arcadia Project (2012)—as well as the many online journals such as Poecology—point toward the ever increasing emergence of all things ecopoetic. Each ecopoem, in a sense, undergoes its composting work within the house of language and of the ecosphere.

And then, there is Dickinson . . .

. . . and what I see now as quite arguably the founding poem of ecopoetics: “I dwell in Possibility” (Poems 466).

Dickinson begins by comparing the possibilities of poetry to a “House” that has “numerous . . . Windows” and “Superior . . . Doors” (ln 2, 3, 4). But in the second stanza, the house expands to become the ecosphere:

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky – (ln 5–8)

The earth becomes the home whose “Roof” is the “Sky.” Here, in the ecosphere, is the place for dwelling. It is no wonder that Dickinson so often speaks of flowers, plants, and nonhuman animals as peoplecountrymenSaxon, visitortenant. Her work as a whole suggests the earth is a shared oikos where humans and countless other species coexist.

However, it is the final stanza that makes this poem one of the founding ecopoetical statements even if written 152 years ago:

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise – (ln 9–12)

The concept of dwelling in a home from the first stanza becomes iterated and yet developed in the third stanza as working in the earth. This process of a recurring and yet developing image gives readers the opportunity to compost. And as we compost, we undergo work on our consciousness.

Indeed, Dickinson’s choice of “Occupation” already anticipates Gary Snyder’s concept of Real Work, of dwelling deeply in language and deeply in one’s bioregion as a way to cultivate a bioregional consciousness . . . a bioregional imagination. Her phrase spreading wide my narrow hands suggests a humility before the phenomenal world—as Merwin would say (35). The occupation, the real work of ecopoetry, involves an element of caretaking, of spreading wide ones narrow hands to gather all that is within the ecosphere.

Dickinson’s poem ends on the concept of earth-as-paradise, which suggests the oikos is less of a home depot and more of an Eden-like temple. Some of her other poems, such as “His Bill is locked – his Eye estranged” vociferate for the nonhuman within this sacrosanct place (Poems 1126). Part of gathering involves pushing against the violent injustices that happen to the other species living beneath the gambrels of the sky.

Herein lies Dickinson’s legacy. Countless ecopoets continue Dickinson’s work—her “Occupation”—as their life and their poetry become a force that has the potential to shape how we live within this home.

I readily think of the work of Brenda Hillman as an activist and as a poet. Her tetralogy exploring earth, air, water, and fire envisions alternative ways to dwell deeply in language and on the earth.

I also think of W. S. Merwin who has planted and planted and planted within his poems and in the earth.

And Sherman Alexie continues this occupation as well—especially when he exposes the interrelationships between biological and cultural extinctions.

Many, many more ecopoets—as well as ecoreaders— continue this crucial occupation. We can’t just have poets. As Muriel Rukeyser has said, the “exchange” between the poem and the reader is an act of “creation” on par with the original exchange between the poet and the poem (172).

I couldn’t agree more.

The poems undergo their composting work in the consciousness/imagination of ecoreaders as part of that occupation of dwelling.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Note: I first came across the term *ecoreader* in Kate Dunning’s work.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Ralph William Franklin. Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.

Merwin, W. S. “‘Fact Has Two Faces’:  An Interview with W. S. Merwin.” Ed. Interview by Ed Folsom and Cary Nelson. The Iowa Review 13.1 (1982): 30–66. Print.

Rasula, Jed. This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2002. Print.

Rukeyser, Muriel. The Life of Poetry. Ashfield: Paris Press, 1996. Print.

 

Creative Commons License

All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://merwinstudies.com.

08/7/14
Image from urbanreleaf.org

CFP for Panel at ASLE Biennial Conference, Moscow Idaho, June 23-27, 2015

Image from urbanreleaf.org

Image from urbanreleaf.org

Merwin Studies seeks to organize a panel at the ASLE Biennial Conference—Notes From Underground: The Depths of Environmental Arts, Culture, and Justice—in Moscow, Idaho, June 23–27, 2015.

The conference theme invites us to consider how looking “down, under, beneath and below” can lead to “imaginative, aesthetic, critical, pedagogical, and activist responses.”

Many of the suggested topics readily resonate with Merwin’s ecopoetics including geological time, soil biopolitics, gardening, roots, reclaiming, insects, witness, mycorrhizal networks, migrations, poetics of darkness (roots, mud, night), and grassroots politics and cultures. For the Conference’s full CFP, click here.

Merwin has had his hands in the earth, planting in Hawaii, for nearly four decades now. His practice of planting and poetry has lead to the grassroots formation of The Merwin Conservancy that actively brings people into interaction with Merwin’s forest of 850 species of palms. For Merwin, planting and poetry and activism are intimately interconnected. As such, they provide a fertile ground—perhaps even a mycorrhizal network—that could be explored further at the ASLE conference.

For instance, in “Place” from The Rain in the Trees, the speaker imagines the roots of the newly planted tree growing “in the earth full of the dead.” Merwin establishes the connection between planting and writing poetry when, in one poem later titled “Witness,” he explores the interrelationship between biological and linguistic extinction: “I want to tell what the forests / were like // I will have to speak / in a forgotten language.” In the poem just before “Place,” a native Hawaiian tree sits in a “plastic pot” waiting to be planted with its name, in “Latin,” written nearby. Writing a poem, planting a tree, and calling it by its native name are acts of resistance that reclaim the “forgotten language” of the forest as well as help restore a portion of the earth ravaged by the monocrops of the pineapple industry. To plant a tree, to write a poem, helps bring to fruition a soil biopolitics (or a politics of bioregionalism).

This small sampling of poems from The Rain in the Trees is but one place where these themes emerge in Merwin’s work. We therefore seek presentations that explore further Merwin’s activist tendencies as a poet/planter.

ASLE’s CFP encourages innovative panels from a wide range of participants:

We particularly encourage non-traditional modes of presentation, including hybrid, performative and collaborative works; panels that minimize formal presentation in favor of engaged emergent discussion; interdisciplinary approaches; environmentally inflected (earthy?) readings of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, film, theatre and other media; and proposals from outside the academic humanities, including submissions from artists, writers, teachers, practitioners, activists and colleagues in the social and natural sciences.

And so, presenters have flexibility to be creative in how their work helps unleash the energy of Merwin’s poetry and poetics.

Send 300 word abstract, contact information, and brief biography to one of the following email addresses by November 15. If interested, though, please communicate early as we will be actively seeking panelists:

merwinstudies [at] gmail [dot] com

amoe [at] saintmarys [dot] edu