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.

fahima ife on the Poet’s Social Responsibility

Within multitudes there is a feeling of desire to destroy the line in order to create a more sustainable line. What is the social responsibility of poets living in late-stage capitalism, among those of us who want to see the earth before the end of the world?

That I required a forest to write poetry of the desert. That I required a desert to write poetry of the swamp. I open another poetry collection, wander inside the wet density of word, step outside world as we know it. As if poets hold access to the mycelial inner-dimensionalities of Earth as we continue singing in its wake. Something about lack of old forest in the DeepSouth—as you say: the woods here are less than one-hundred years old, on a billions of years old planet, in a newly-contested country, written in the lineage of descent. You tell me this as we sit outside on the curb in front of a bar where there are no trees present. We consider the imminent explosion of this fleshy purple stone we call home. And as we sit here, we crane back, get a good look at each other, as if it were the last time, the first time, and that’s another opening. The southern forest burned down back when humans were caught up in that settler colonial fight of private property, ongoing still. And what has changed. Trees call out in movement, clarify their sentiment among us who can hear them. Then we bleed together in shadow loam. And every seventeen days or so, one among us stands up in brutal defiance of world in defense of earth.

As if a border could keep us apart. We create and recreate the conditions of erasure, blur the lines, smudge and blur the lines of geography to bring us back together. As cosmos create the conditions of our collision, our collusion modeled after myth. It is Calafia we want. An idea before word destroyed it. I was born there. For seventeen or seven thousand years this country has summoned me to its extremities—the polar north, the bottom south, eroding coasts, a ring of fire, it is here and not yet here. As if I were among those summoned to sing songs of our end, of our dead before the end, heralding something like an impossible beginning.

Elders pass down wisdom and because I am old in spirit I listen. On the phone you say: you have about ten more years before things really get bad, so see as much of it, touch as much of it as possible. And I cry without crying as I bear witness. Is the planet a poet destroying itself to create a more sustainable version of itself? Lately, I consider the dinosaurs—were they here or not here, no matter—I consider them, the myth of them, their presence, and their demise. And even after that massive life was ruined, Earth continued breathing. I think about Earth’s sentience, its wisdom, worry less about what humans are doing to the planet, forget humans altogether. What if our experiment in individuation was pantomimed as a spherical blue agent, rotating each day and night in blackness, and we are all adrift until we are not?

Can a poem create the conditions to eliminate forest fires, erosion, petrotoxicity, flooding, and imminent ruin? Ask me again on a day further away from the changing face of the moon. Today I am mercurial, skeptical and optimistic, bereft and full of breath.


Five Books for Further Reading

To See the Earth Before the End of the World. Ed Roberson. CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2017. 

Eroding Witness. Nathaniel Mackey. IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985. 

The Little Edges. Fred Moten. CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2016. 

Inheritance. Taylor Johnson. ME: Alice James Books, 2020. 

Event Factory. Renee Gladman . MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2010. 

Writing Prompt

ife writes: “That I required a forest to write poetry of the desert. That I required a desert to write poetry of the swamp.” Write a poem about an ecosystem or biome that you consider to be the “opposite” of the place where you’re writing the poem.

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fahima ife

fahima ife is an artist-scholar of Black Studies based in New Orleans. Specializing in 20th and 21st century Black aesthetic production, they study literary, performance, visual art, corresponding art histories, and consider representations of black(queer) and trans* sociality. They produce fluid creative scholarship as poems, lyrical essays, and hybrid/open-genre works offering transgressive shadow meditations on aesthetics, intimacy, affect, grief, and ecstasy in contemporary art. They are author of Maroon Choreography (Duke University Press, 2021) and other works appearing in various places including liquid blackness: journal of aesthetics & black studies, Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, and Interim. They are an assistant professor of English at Louisiana State University where they teach Black Studies, poetry and poetics, and pedagogies.