Starting from Paumanok: Essays on Poetry & Sustainability in Suburbia
I am currently in the process of locating a publisher for a collection of non-fiction essays entitled: Starting from Paumanok: Essays on Poetry & Sustainability in Suburbia. The collection's title alludes to Whitman and examines a simple question: how to live well in this place, at this time. Like Whitman, I was born in Huntington on Long Island, however, my Long Island is a far different place than the one he so resiliently rhapsodized over. As America's archetypal suburb, Long Island's social and physical landscapes offer particular challenges in the face of current sustainability movements and issues. And yet, it is still my place, and so, still my opportunity and responsibility.
The essays explore a range topics in both lyrical and more traditional expository form. They all ultimately argue for the importance of mindfulness practices in working toward more sustainable actions, and often turn to poetry and literature in order to ground and explore nuances of the aforementioned process. Topics include the relevance of Horace's virtue-driven Odes in light of contemporary sustainable agriculture; the nature of aversion and suburban entomology; eco-pedagogy and personal responsibility; Virgil's Georgics and permaculture; climate change and haiku perception; hatha yoga and consumption patterns; and ecofeminism's embodied vision of the intellectual.
What all the essays share is a faith in the power of poetry and literature to nurture place-based knowledge, to encourage mindfulness, and to inspire practical engagement with today's most pressing environmental problems.
A Handful of Earth
A Handful of Earth is a work of experimental fiction composed of ten chapters, which might also be characterized as extended prose poems. I think of the book as ecolament, a genre that mourns the toxic environment, while also locating purpose and transformation through art, labor, language, and human relationships. Told in the first person, A Handful of Earth harbors the contingencies of lyric subjectivity and language, negotiating how they struggle with and are enlivened by desire. It is the story of a 33-year-old Maine native who is given a terminal cancer diagnosis. In an effort to escape the antiseptic sterility of contemporary medicine, Claire decides to travel to Italy with the intention of taking her life after her brief sojourn. But she has much to accomplish in her last summer, including fulfilling and sustaining a series of relationships with a lover, a friend, her past, the sea, painting, and the physical labor of farm work. Her (and the work’s) ultimate task is to turn affliction into metaphor, and in doing so, achieve a sense of spiritual rebirth. Guided by Rilke’s ten Duino Elegies, the work gets increasingly lyrical as Claire’s sickness takes hold; the last chapter is a full-out prose poem. In another sense, the work is a love song for Italy. This project aims to provide an honest and artful response to the fear that can emerge in the face of our precarious environmental position.
From Mourning to Meditation: A Theory for Ecopoetry
Composed of twelve chapters and argued through the months of the year, this scholarly project analyzes the works of Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau, situating them in a contemporary ecocritical context, but more importantly, in a widened sense of ecopoetics. The project’s thesis states that the ecopoet, in mourning the loss of nature as idealization and salvation, embraces a state of radical metaphor-making, which in turn allows for a heightened sense of intimacy and necessitates a commitment to meditation. The cultivation of intimacy and the practice of meditation lie at the heart of ecological thinking and being. In order to theorize ecology in relation to meditation, the project interrogates and rethinks "meditation" as a canonical term through an intervention of non-western epistemology. In moving with the calendar, the chapters address key ecopoetic figures (the stranger, the field, the garden, the heart), processes (mourning, breathing, singing), and literary practices (the notebook, the letter, the calendar). In shaping this narrative of ecopoesis, multiple genres are discussed in relation to meditative practice as a form of diurnal awareness, including the epistle, ode, haiku, journal, lyric fiction, and elegy. In turn, analysis of Dickinson and Thoreau is supplemented by a range of other voices, including contemporary poets Jane Hirshfield, W.S. Merwin, and Juliana Spahr. The project reaches back to Horace’s Stoic and Epicurean education for ecopoetic roots in the West and forward to contemporary global extensions and analogues, in particular, Korean poet Ko Un. As ecological thinking requires scale elongation in both temporal and spatial planes, this project ultimately argues for a new mode of reading ecologically, recognizing patterns of interrelation and modes of questioning that widen and deepen a shifting set of perspectives
To sum it up, then—if indeed any conclusion is possible when everybody is talking at once and it is time to be going—it seems that it would be wise for the writers of the present to renounce the hope of creating masterpieces. Their poems, plays, biographies, novels are not books but notebooks, and Time, like a good schoolmaster, will take them in his hands, point to their blots and scrawls and erasions, and tear them across; but he will not throw them into the waste-paper basket. He will keep them because other students will find them very useful. It is from notebooks of the present that the masterpieces of the future are made.
-Virginia Woolf, “How it Strikes a Contemporary”