Catherine Owen: 2013 Berkeley Conference

3 Rhizomatic Blogs on the 2013 Conference on Ecopoetics in Berkeley California

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Blog # 1

Dendritic Rhythms for the Earth: Rootings from the Ecopoetics conference, Berkeley, CA, February 22-24, 2013.

*these notes and quotations are all taken directly from my conference scrawlings (on roundtables, panels, readings and thoughts) with minor modifications for slight cohesion but no deep alteration. read them as sketches towards a sketch of nobler relations with the planet.

“Rhizome” and “rhizomatic” describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of “things” and towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those “things.” A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by “ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.” The rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a “rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.” The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation. In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way” Deleuze & Guattari.

First Root: Lexicon

David Buuck – “in his eyes were askings”

On the morning of the conference I wake thinking

: the vernacular is of fast, the discourse is of throwaway.

We have to change language before we can alter actions.

We have to locate another lexicon of inhabiting the world.

At Point Reyes: Before the oceanic vision around me, I write:

“a braided vertebrae of rivulets. A jigsaw of foam.”

Styrofoam chunks and small bits of plastic I learn are called “mermaid’s tears.”

They are gathered up in our thin jackets like words we never wanted to say but keep saying and saying.

Alicia Cohen – “all full of without”

The day begins with a roundtable.

Michael Zizer is concerned with the role poetry is now playing in other disciplines, wondering how we share idioms, lexicons, how we rise from the fear of facing another field’s lingo and approach and be less resistant to “translation.” If we can’t speak the language of another field, I think, how do we locate the doors.

Charles Altieri, from the audience, suggests we need to restore LOVE to politics. He says that because we can’t all agree on what is worth saving and loving it is hard to make serious changes. Robert Hass then wonders if anything we write about nature makes us better people, more constructive. He asks what are we hoping for in ecopoetry relating to change?  We want to re-describe struggles with terms, broadly engage to revivify and take language work into communities.

How does poetry change the world? How?

The first panel starts and George Hart addresses Larry Eigner who draws us beyond metaphorical thinking into metonymns, contingencies, and defamiliarizes. He engages with aspects of climate change such as scale, limit, quantity, sufficiency – beyond embodied concepts.

Clara Van Zanten talks about how plants develop according to algorithm, a language of science that requires only a pursuit of instructions, is a human artifact. Nature as stochastic though, not just plan or form. Procedural poems can be plantlike expressions. We only know the concept and end result, the poem as material which leads to the elision of fact/labour. Modeling is about representation not kinship. We cannot know another.

Can I comprehend anything from these notes, scribbled sometimes incomprehensibly in my black notebook while I try to listen to panelists at the same time? They are traces of the gist, always.

Forrest Gander – “curved road in the gloaming. Evening spooked with light. They leave us what we call them”

I wake thinking about discourses of reusability. A sign in the hotel room reads: “A towel on the rack means, “I’ll use it again.” A towel on the floor or in the tub means “please exchange.”  The sign languages we need to learn to make our motives known.

Panel two and Jonathan Skinner takes texts and intersperses them with random bird and other species calls, including a human trying to imitate a whale.

There is: “aestive carnality” and “somnophilias…attenuated foliage…glass declension” from Christopher Dewdney ruptured by a swallow’s chirp.

And Marianne Moore’s “an octopus of ice” slivered through with a lemur’s call.

Francis Ponge – will language leave us when we are extinct and enter another life form?

Echoes of Dickinson – the “inhuman movements and intensities in us”

He enters the sites of Ronald Johnson’s Nest poems.

McClure – “the machines are too dull when we are lion-poems that move and breathe”

& then an oriole whistles through.

We need to become “island preserves of animality”

as “animals trace the affect that cannot be subsumed to human purpose”

In a later panel, Brian Teare comments on the need for specificity and models of poesis to create the destruction and regeneration of eco-poetry.

We require a literature that doesn’t put humans at the centre. How does our language differ from that of the other animals? Perhaps if we acknowledge our ignorance, we can experiment and create works that don’t instantly “feel good”. Put beauty second. No requirement to unify.

He also underlines how misogyny is a current precondition for environmental devastation. Women and nature are backgrounded according to Val Plumwood. Jeffers and Eidelman challenge our faith in current political systems, anti social violence enters into public discourse, reverses human/inhuman life, stems from existential disappointment that humans can do evil, nature as child.

All the strange strangers of flora/fauna.

I wonder at how much I strain to create beauty. How in these blogs I am resisting my tendency to unify apart from beneath the loosest themes, how I want to let the raggedness happen.

Rob Halpern – “our current state being one of permanent interruption”

After lunch, Robert Hass takes us around campus on a Tree Walk.

Eucalyptus leaves. Lodgepole pine needles. Ginko bark. Red cedar branches. The relation of trees like the olive or Italian spruce to architecture/history. The rally to save live Oak populations from decimation by football fields.  I learn so many names of trees, but more importantly, I smell the musky bark, I feel the tick of a needle in my skin, the spices of the forest begin to move in my blood.

Rusty Morrison and Peter Burghardt  make ecopoetic films  that aim to provide caesuras between hearing and seeing, offering heightened attention,  diminishing fear of disruption.

Sky Totems combines still, moving and animated segments. Locations are from the local watershed. Films as small energizing devices. Film scenes first then insert language to provide more “pathways of access”.  No Meant Measure – “each chance attitude of grass.” Poetry’s investment in silence.

Words and how they interweave with images to provide world-sense is what I feel when watching these snippets of place and sounding.

Stephen Cope on an entirely different panel draws from Basil Bunting, touching on the naivety of poetic organicism. How objectivism could be a linguistic focus. Revisions of nature poetry in foregrounding eco concerns. He reads Bunting’s poem “They Say Etna” and suggests how it deforms categories, making aesthetic lines “process not picture” –

Thus “decay thrusts the blade” and “the mallet and the lark are hardly one.”

Camilla Nelson: Draws from Skinner’s Entropological Poetics theory to explore the conceptual holes of writing/nature. Can they both be nouns, verbs? Deconstruction was first “destabilization on the move” [Derrida], the always already of things falling apart. The agency of a writer in relation to things necessitates a critique. She writes “with” trees. Inscribes words on living/dying apples to make them agents of composition. Impressed word “apple” into its skin with a pencil and then “writing,” shows history, impact, then erasure. Sets of material agencies change, interactive processes.

I cannot stop myself from asking: WHAT ABOUT THE APPLE’S TRAUMA, HOW DO YOU MEASURE THIS?

Michael Ziser concludes by elaborating on how paratexts can so overwhelm a text they morph it into an ecotext. He uses Grainger’s The Sugar Cane poem/tract from 1774, naming it a very early ecopoetic text on slavery and the land. Genette on paratexts: “productions that reinforce the naked text…verbal or not…epitexts that condition our reception and reaction to central texts.” Ecopoetics must account for its own paratexts as a form of interconnected species. He calls the poem the ancestor of eco poetry in the same way a parasite invades/occupies. The paratexts subsume the primary text. How is inability to focus on one subject ecological? Because concerns share an ecosystem. Multiplicitousness.

Finally the panel on elegy where Russell Stone examines the origins of elegy as residing within the erotic meter in Ovid. His preoccupation with the sylvan and sexual realms and the marketing of the latter as the former. His anthology as a “bouquet of flowers” or Savula, “little forest book”. Ovid as eco-poet of Rome.

Neither of these latter texts seem to have much to do with the ecological focus but they play in the margins, the edges of our concerns. Elaborate a vaster alphabet.

So many scholars noted that they were now “suspicious” of their own lexicons, positions and of any desire to codify ecopoesis as a system of approach to nature.

Robert Hass makes closing remarks emphasizing the diversity of voices and thus languagings at the conference: scholar, poet, teacher, activist. The origins of ecology as oikos or home. Inescapable belonging.

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