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Poetry and the Environment

ENGL 200.304
instructor(s):
MW 2-3:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

This course charts the shifting forms of ecological thinking and environmental awareness in twentieth and twenty-first century poetry. Environmental crisis is multi-valent and examples range from rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather events to the spread of chemical hazards, industrial waste and radioactive contamination. With some of these contemporary crises in mind, we will explore how poetry has imagined, documented and grappled with human-induced environmental change, damage, and catastrophe. We will address the following questions: How have the fields of poetry and environmental justice interacted and intersected? What tools (aesthetic; formal; documentary) do poets employ to engage and pursue environmentalist objectives? Might the medium of poetry serve as a form of environmental witness? While much of the poetry we will read explores the impact of environmental destruction on human life, we will also remain open to more positive or restorative modes of environmental relation, including not-just-human alliances and affinities that can emerge in altered environments and damaged landscapes. 

Course poets include Muriel Rukeyser, Mai Der Vang, Patricia Smith, and Craig Santos Perez. We will also consider examples of environmental thinking and critique in film and new media. Given the complex nature of environmental concerns, we will draw from an array of disciplinary fields and methodological approaches to frame the ways in which we analyze and interpret our primary texts. More generally, this Junior Research Seminar is designed to develop essential research skills and academic writing expertise, culminating in a scholarly research project. Final projects may integrate a creative component, whether of poetry, digital art, mixed media or something else.