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.

Orchid Tierney on “from a field guide to future flora

what if, as Maureen M. McLane suggests, we are already preplant? I’m absolutely delighted by this strange provocation: that the human is an expression of dynamic vegetal life. what new monsters do we really want to grow in our rot? what new poetics will emerge in the beautiful roots of our doing?

in my own scholarly and creative life, I have turned to critical plants studies to understand vegetal forms of life that exceed human comprehension. Saint Aquinas, for example, considered the life of plants largely unknowable since they lacked observable moverment. in many respects we continue to inherit such beliefs that vegetal life is unintelligent, soulless, charmless, witless. however distributed vegetal cognition is, plants are nonetheless remarkable sensing and sensate beings, who invite speculation as to who we—the weirdos of this world—are if we are not already communal thinkers. so: to look upon a plant with an appreciation that its own mind is radically different is a terse exercise in the acceptance of its unknowability. to engage with the unknowable forms of vegetal knowleldge is to recognise that any reciprocity between plant and human is impossible. honestly I am okay with these one-sided relationships. let plants be beautifully selfish.

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?

Writing Prompt

this field guide began with a series of interviews with random plants—including artifical flowers—that I encountered on my daily movements—in my garden, on the street, in parks, at work, on the Amazon digital store. I read these interviews as an exploration into the breach of an alien consciousness. look, vegetal life may exceed our capacity to comprehend but these life forms still demand that we listen. perhaps their particular modes of communication travel at scales too slow for our species to register. but those unnamed flowers in your garden—perhaps the little ones, blue and purple in their faces that nudge into dirt—have demonstrated a special kind of intelligence to do so. if you sat down to interview these strange kin on your lawn, what would you say to them? what would they say in return? this is not a metaphor. go on. sit. listen. you have to watch them for a very long time.

Orchid Tierney

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Orchid Tierney

Orchid Tierney is from Aotearoa New Zealand and teaches at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio. She is the author of a year of misreading the wildcats (Operating System, 2019) and chapbooks looking at the Tiny: Mad lichen on the surfaces of reading (Essay Press, 2023), my Beatrice (above/ground press, 2020), ocean plastic (BlazeVOX 2019), blue doors (Belladonna* Press), Gallipoli Diaries (GaussPDF 2017), among others. Her scholarship has appeared in Venti, SubStance, Jacket2, the Cambridge Companion to Twentieth Century American Poetry and Politics, and forthcoming in the Cambridge Companion to Australian Poetry. She is a co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Ecopoetics and a senior editor at the Kenyon Review