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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

Literary Landscapes: The Power of Eco Poetry

The power of poetic creativity lies hidden in natural expanses.
An empty background for the bird’s traversal, set with obstacles to be navigated: isn’t this the principle? The bird enters the forest; it is introduced. It doesn’t think, but uses the machine of instinct buried in its flesh, a device wrapped in an assembly.

You may now be wondering how this abstract section made it to the YEP Academy journal. Well, it's a quote from Brent Cunningham’s “Bird & Forest,”  an ode to natural poetics of the postmodern period. Here, an often-overlooked genre stands as a testament to humanity's connection with nature: ecopoetry.

This unique form of expression merges the artistry of words with ecological consciousness, offering a powerful medium through which poets articulate the intricate relationship between humans and the environment. Eco poetry is not just a literary genre; it's a movement, a call to action, and a reflection of the collective concern for our planet's wellbeing.

Observing platforms offer rich inspiration to watch, for instance a bird's life and its interactions.

Eco-poetry, often referred to as nature or green poetry, has evolved into a distinctly political strand within modern poetry, and for good reasons. Its kind of poetry dissected in classrooms where mountains invariably symbolize strength, flowers epitomize beauty, and the sky represents freedom — its role is undeniably transforming in today's context.

Nature poetry has existed as long as poetry has existed, representing a multidisciplinary approach that intertwines poetics, science, and theory. Around 1960, however, public attention increasingly turned to the burgeoning environmental crisis, and nature poetry began to reflect this concern. In recent decades, the term “eco poetry” has come into use to designate poetry that in some way is shaped by and responds specifically to that crisis.

While nature poetry celebrates the beauty and intricacies of the natural world, eco poetry extends this appreciation by examining the environmental impact of human activities. It challenges the belief that we are meant to have dominion over nature and is skeptical of a hyperrationality that would separate mind from body—and earth and its creatures from human beings—and that would give preeminence to fantasies of control.

Some of it is based in the conviction that poetry can help us find our way back to an awareness that we are at one with the more-than-human world. In this regard, eco poetry serves as a potent tool for environmental activism. By evoking emotions and provoking thought, it has the power to inspire change and motivate action. Poets harness the subtlety and strength of language to raise awareness, challenge apathy, and ignite a sense of responsibility towards our planet. Through their verses, eco poets encourage readers to reflect on their environmental footprint, advocate for sustainable practices, and engage in the broader conversation about Earth's future.

Eco poetry is inspired by landscapes, ecosystems and wildlife in their fullest diversity.

The eco poetry movement boasts an array of voices, each contributing their nuanced understanding of the natural world. Poets like Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, and Gary Snyder have been pivotal in shaping the genre, using their craft to explore the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. Contemporary eco poets continue to expand the genre, infusing it with fresh perspectives and new urgencies as the environmental crisis evolves.

Contemporary eco poetry is not just a re-envisioning of natural landscapes, which can be urban or rural, tangible or metaphorical, natural or man-made, but it has also become a crucial medium in light of the environmental emergency. It stands out as a genre intent on influencing how we think, feel, and engage with our world, aiming to inspire changes in our behavior and attitudes.

Engaging with eco poetry, you will find a profound orientation to place, a vivid evocation of local environments through narratives and imaginative exploration. Contemporary works often draw on folklore, which possesses a dual character: it's deeply rooted in the specific stories and land relationships of a community while resonating with universal storytelling elements found globally. Folklore plays a pivotal role, as poet Seán Lysaght suggests, in breaking down the barriers between personal and collective experiences, extending even to the interconnections between humans and the natural world.

While eco poetry's direct impact on combating climate change might seem questionable — can a poem from a polar bear's viewpoint truly provoke action or foster a deep connection with the non-human realm? — its significance goes beyond surface-level engagement. In "Why Ecopoetry? There's no Planet B," John Shoptaw defines eco poetry as a genre that must fulfill two main criteria: being environmental and environmentalist.

He explains that an ecopoem should genuinely address the nonhuman natural world, going beyond mere figurative representation to include real aspects of nature. Thus, while an ecopoem is a type of nature poem, it must also embody an environmentalist stance, advocating for awareness and action concerning ecological issues. Through this lens, eco poetry transcends traditional nature poetry by intertwining artistic expression with a commitment to environmental advocacy.

Stunning landscapes have been portrayed in poetry since it's very first appearance.

Engaging with eco poetry is an enriching experience that offers profound insights into the human-nature connection. Readers are invited to explore this genre not just as spectators but as active participants in an ongoing dialogue about our planet's health. By immersing oneself in eco poetry, one can gain a deeper appreciation of the natural world, understand the gravity of environmental issues, and be inspired to contribute to positive change.

The art of eco poetry is echoing humanity's deep-seated connection to the natural world and our urgent responsibility to protect it. Through the emotive and persuasive power of poetry, eco poets worldwide are advocating for a more sustainable and conscious relationship with our planet. As we face unprecedented environmental challenges, eco poetry stands as a beacon of hope, inspiring us to act with compassion and urgency for the sake of Earth's future.


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