Ecopoetics: Outsider poetries of the twentieth century
Skinner, Jonathan Elliott
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Ecopoetics: Outsider Poetries of the Twentieth Century investigates the meanings of "ecopoetics," or the study of creative-critical edges between writing and ecology, in the "outsider" work of William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, Charles Olson, Larry Eigner, Ronald Johnson and Tohono O'odham (Papago) ceremonial singers and speakers. Close readings of poetry that is oriented to the physical outside, as well as outside the literary mainstream, offer alternative models for environmental attention. In addition to the topological and the tropological modes of writing dominant in literary environmental discourse, this dissertation proposes an ethnological and an entropological poetics: writing for which the environmental commons is constituted in dialogical engagement with ethnic and linguistic differences, and writing which participates materially in environmental processes as sonic, visual and temporal construction--"entropic situations," in artist Robert Smithson's words, "that hold themselves together." Such poetry breaks the "nature writing" mold, of dialogue between narrative "I" and descriptive eye, to engage a range of poetic strategies, disciplines and senses, including landscape design and land art, evolutionary taxonomy, soundscape composition, ethnographic translation, ornithology and ethnobotany. Site-specific sections situate the readings in the two border landscapes in which the dissertation was written--specifically in Buffalo, its parks and wetlands, and in the Organ Pipe Cactus desert of Southern Arizona. The writings and works of Frederick Law Olmsted and of Robert Smithson make the case for a dialectical understanding of these changing landscapes. Field recordings of thrush and mockingbird songs, included with the dissertation, also supply important context to the argument. The ethnographic chapter that concludes the dissertation argues for close work between ethnography and ecology, bringing linguistic, cultural and species difference into play, and making translation central to the work of ecopoetics.