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Poetry and the Environment

ENGL 269.302
instructor(s):
TR 9-10:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

This interdisciplinary course will investigate the global evolution of ecologically concerned poetry in the twentieth and twenty-first century. No prior knowledge of poetry is required, and students from disciplinary backgrounds outside English, including the sciences, are very welcome. We will focus on poetry’s attempts to create and use language in ways that enable surprising and innovative ecological modes of relation: between human and nonhuman beings, living and nonliving worlds, science and art, history and imagination. Contemporary global poetry has rapidly expanded its commitments to include the nonhuman world it inhabits, a world lately thrown into crisis by human action. The poetry and essays we will read in this course represent a variety of attempts to bridge the boundary lines dividing worlds: “settled” from “wild,” resources from waste, human from nonhuman, language from matter. Language—presumed to separate human from nonhuman realms—is perhaps the most entrenched of these dividing lines. What might we discover in poetry that transgresses these boundaries, addressing the human as well as the nonhuman world?

All readings for the course will be in English, including some materials in translation from other languages. We will therefore also give some thought to the ecological significance of translation—through literature as well as virtual “translations” of life-worlds, bodies, and habitats. We will investigate how, in the last century, what counts as Nature has been drastically reconceived, leaving the future of poetry, language, and the non/human environment inextricably entangled.