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.

Matthew Tuckner on Timothy Donnelly’s “This Is the Assemblage”

What would happen if a poem “talked” to its reader? What would the “voice” of this poem sound like?

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This vision of desire—to become the thing we love, to be remade in its image, to gradually take on its form—is the site of this poem, the mercurial “thing-that-is-struggling-into-existence” at its heart. In a 2015 article whose title contains its plea, its manifesto and its thesis—WE FILL PRE-EXISTING FORMS AND WHEN WE FILL THEM WE CHANGE THEM AND ARE CHANGED—Bidart describes the process of writing poetry in terms of being “gripped by something that struggle[s] to find existence through the medium of language, but whose source [is] not language”.

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I love a poem that is about everything. Bhanu Kapil’s tender “Seven Poems for Seven Flowers and Love in All Its Forms” is this way, both about flowers and about not flowers, expansive and contracting in its scope.

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Repetition often has an incantatory effect. Nursery rhymes use repetition, rhythm, and rhyme to grant the wish laid upon the first star. Despite this magical aura of naming and claiming, wishing evokes passivity. Wishes are childhood's epistemological firmament, they are part of the structures of intimacy available to children in a world controlled and administered by adults.

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All this time, the vow held me and asked me to return to it with answers; “you” had become “I,” and “again” and “more” implied I’d been here before. What was I asking myself for? The rest of the poem? Myself? I’d hoped to depict an answer in passing material. But the wish itself was the world.

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Whether or not “Unfolder” is a successful poem, lyric or ecopoetic or otherwise, I like that it risks attempting those deeper connections. I still read the poem to audiences as one, albeit small, contribution to advocacy on behalf of the threatened monarch butterfly.

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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.

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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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