What Sparks Poetry

Ecopoetry Now

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature that explores experiences and ideas that spark the writing of new poems.

In Ecopoetry Now, invited poets engage in an ecopoetic conversation across borders. In poems and poetics statements, their work describes important local differences, including bioregion and language, as well as a shared concern for the Earth. We hope to highlight poetry’s integral role in creating and sustaining a broadly ecological imagination that is most alive when biologically, culturally, and linguistically diverse.

“Explore What Sparks Poetry” is made possible with funding from The Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Ariana Benson on “Dear Moses Grandy, …Love, the Great Dismal Swamp”

I have patched together a poetics of Black persona. That is, a poetics that sees the object—inanimate in all the ways that make it “nonhuman”—as a thing that can, and does, speak. This is how, I submit, we can speak to the land, and (more importantly) listen as it speaks back.

Catch Up on Issues of What Sparks Poetry

Michael Marder’s claim that “‘Plant-thinking’ refers to…the non-cognitive, non-ideational, and non-imagistic mode of thinking proper to plants (hence, what I call ‘thinking without the head’)” is an intriguing proposition that underlies my misadventures into future plant life—including artificial flowers—that I am calling a field guide to future flora. this series on biofutures meditates on what plants might emerge in our post-climate-changed worlds, what expressions of vegetal intelligence, wit, and desire might take root amidst the socio-political decompositions. I don’t imagine this future as utopian but more optimistically punk. and what is more punk than plants? what is more optimistic than poems that think without a head?

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“The Uncles” are not actual people but attempts to personalize the tragedy of Superstorm Sandy through memories, anecdotes I had heard from neighbors and read in the news, bits of conversation, and places and images that continue to haunt me to this day. I chose the sestina’s six ending words to drive home exactly what was being lost, and what we continue to lose, both concrete (bay, fence, birds) and abstract (home, ways of knowing). I wanted the reader to experience the same constant presences, the places and events that had become a part of my daily life, over and over again.

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Language disappears into its utility as it fulfills its intended purpose. I like to think that poetic language takes on a more durable form. If a poem works, if the thing sings, it is because the words entreat the inner and outer eye and ear to linger, to stay, to be with things.

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As much as this place of being, of our communal ARE, was filled with grief, I also felt that it could be, and in fact needed to be, one of beauty and connection too.

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I want to uplift an impure ecopoetics that is rife with strange domesticity, thereby able to consider—alongside the plentiful and unsung arts and sciences of care—how the household and its fictions of separation can uphold many complicities in a country where housing is property, resting on broken treaties, explicit racism, and cold war ideology, not to mention a general absence of concern for wildlife, watersheds, and necessary continuities of forest and field.

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In The Upstate, I was trying to connect the regional experience of a place, a certain corner of Southern Appalachia, with the bigger structural issues of America of 2016-2020, roughly, and of the world.

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 Or to put it another way: I like a poem that’s an elegant mess, whose form points to a kind of larger play of order and chaos...An elegant mess to replace hope, yes: a looseness allied to the real. A very new and very old feeling.

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Released from the bubble of voice, narrative, and image, words animate space differently—the degraded “open space, ” the space of the poem. They inhabit it, root, and evolve there. Perhaps they have always done so, they just needed to be freed from lineation and author/ity to make that clear. These are not my own words. They refuse ownership. You can read them any way you like.

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At a minimum the ecosystems in poems challenge some of the optimism that defined the field of ecocriticism at its beginnings, the sorts of claims that poetry can direct our attention, can help us notice the loss, and then move us to action. It doesn’t really notice that much it seems.

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The landscape of my childhood comes back in moments where I confront change. It comes back when something wild happens. Those times when words come to me, it is often an expression from childhood—now, like then, a word or phrase expressed internally. What I experience now pulls on the wild things I experienced earlier in life.

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And here we are back at nature again—the destruction of common land generally begins with one-sided extraction or a targeted incursion into and weakening of protected areas in order to undermine their conservation value. It’s a familiar story; if something loses its perceived beauty or purity, it’s just that much easier to go on destroying it. And yet: wilderness is still a creative force, both life-giving and life-taking, and wilderness remains what we yearn for, the counterpart to our “culture,” the adversary we so deeply desire.

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During the process of giving birth, the conscious mind relinquishes control as the body’s deeper, intuitive knowledge takes over. The resulting state is similar to one I have experienced when hiking past the point of exhaustion.

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As I studied the Pleistocene animals, I felt a recognition, like revisiting previous versions of myself, stored away under years of mental permafrost: infant bodies, adolescent bodies, bodies that now and then arose in me in moments of remembered trauma, as if theirs were the real world. I started looking at Neanderthal bodies among the flickering walls of my genome. The more I remembered myself, the more violence arose from behind my language, my country, my humanity, my very shaky identity.

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In “Some Things I Said,” Ferry turns[...] to his own work: both his poems and his translations[...], and draws forth a new poem, an assemblage of fragments, a portmanteau, found lines sometimes presented almost exactly as they were in the original and sometimes much-altered.

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The fire map requires touching – on the best device, you can do everything with your fingertips, no keys necessary. I obligated myself to describe the experience of the map – but the poem surged underneath with resistance, digression, argument, frustration. I find this to be common with poems, which are like my favorite kind of children – give them a job to do, and they’d rather do anything else. But give them nothing to do, and they hate you. A poem ends up being equal parts what you must do and what you want to do, but in a way, with a proportion, inhabiting a mood you can’t predict.

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