Post #1 in a series, all from the preface of my book in progress, _Upcycling Ecopoetry_

“Maybe what seeks us is better than what we seek.”

—Ben Okri, Astonishing the Gods

“In a time of destruction, create something.”

—Maxine Hong Kingston

“It is so hard to write books about climate change that people want to read,” NPR host Ari Shapiro has said.  An even tougher sell might be a book like this one, about poetryand climate disaster, for us and many other species.  (That’s the honest name we should give to what is happening with the climate and the biodiversity crisis, not the faux-neutral “climate change”).  Who would want to read about poems, most of them probably incomprehensible, on a subject that’s already making us depressed, anxious, and ashamed?  A book about climate change and poetry would be basically doubling down on negativity.  And if I were to counter that by saying that poems—at least somepoems, the good ones—can help us change how we live on Earth, a lot of readers may just roll their eyes. 

Yet the worries won’t go away.  They linger in the air like wildfire smoke.  A pall present and on the move, whether we choose to notice it or not.  Most everyone is aware that public forums addressing climate-change policy are often sponsored by corporations or nations that have been enriched by fossil fuels: to what degree are such sponsors directly or indirectly setting the boundaries on what can be discussed?[i]  Given that reality, doesn’t it make sense also to turn to spaces for imagining global futures that don’t require rich sponsors?  Not to mention offer a greater diversity of voices and ideas?  Climate- and pollution-stressed ecosystems lose biodiversity.  There’s an analogous danger losing diversity of voices and views when it comes to cultural ecosystems too. 

Two central themes of this project will build on others’ work 1) to make the case for a deeper diversity in the poets who are considered to be writing important ecopoetry merged with social critique; and 2) to argue that major poetic genres—satire, elegy, and pastoral—are evolving in response to the crisis of the Anthropocene.

Imaginative literature, including poetry, can be coopted by corrupt social forces, of course.  Creative acts aren’t made in miraculously free spaces.  They’re immune neither to money nor to politics.  The same goes for what happens when those creations circulate amongst an audience in the world.  But art’s powers of communication cannot be fully scripted, nor its influence totally controlled by those of the most money or force.  Strong art allows us to know and question the constraints that surround us, and the origins of those constraints.  Further, art shapes space and time so that new forms of freedom can be forged, and robust connections with other beings created.  If humanity is to survive by moving to different physical and mentalenergy sources, and crafting healthier ways of living on the Earth, shouldn’t we consider connecting to the free, renewable energy that imaginative poems provide?  Not to mention their ways of reshaping our communities via memorable music and song? 

[i]  For instance, the “COP28” UN global climate talks in Dubai in 2023 were organized by a top oil executive, Sultan al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates.  As the conference has played out, it became clear many forces were working behind the scenes to slow or halt any resolution requiring systemic and sustained decreases in global fossil fuel pollution from now through the upcoming decades.  The resolution regarding reduction targets for future global fossil-fuel consumption that eventually passed was designed to be vague, merely supporting an eventual global “transition” to renewable energy sources. 

For one analysis of the COP28 outcomes, consider the response of Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a nonprofit research organization based in New Delhi.  He stressed that without effective financial tools, emerging economies that aim to expand their renewable fleet would be undermined. “[COP28] hasn’t sufficiently raised climate ambition, held historical polluters accountable, or established effective mechanisms to finance climate resilience and a just low-carbon transition for the Global South.” Source: Somini Sengupta, “Four Takeaways from the COP28 Climate Summit.” The New York Times, December 13, 2023,, accessed December 13, 2023.

Katsushika Hokusai’s Japanese owl, Album of Sketches (1760–1849) paintings. Original public domain image from The MET Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.
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