By Victor Postnikov, Poetry Editor
Life far exceeds humans. For millennia, ecopoets have understood it as a far greater enterprise. In their poetry, we can hear the voices of those who came before us and those who live alongside us. Now, however, they face extinction and die in silence, deafened by the roar of civilization. The time has come to renew the old understanding that all life, including humanity, speaks a common language.
The mission of ecocentric poetry, or ecopoetry, is to help us empathize with non-human entities, be they a whale, a tree or a mountain. For we are all kin. Through metaphor and imagery, it speaks directly to our hearts and genes. We begin to realize that we have evolved together and share a common fate. They don’t deserve to die from our greed and stupidity. Indeed, if they perish we too will die from a “great yearning of Spirit” (in Chief Seattle’s words).
To a large extent, we are still in the infancy of poetically describing ourselves as fully natural beings. Philosophically and scientifically there are ecocentric discourses, but we haven’t evolved poetically en masse, and our language is quite poor in that respect. Before Dante and Petrarch, the poetry of romance struggled to be heard; prior to the Beatles and Dylan, the world was unfamiliar with poetry of younger generations as such. In a similar manner, by breaking through old anthropocentric ideas and life-modes, ecopoetry discovers the richness and unfathomableness of a more-than-human world.
The change to an ecopoetic world is more complex than one might assume. It will require a change in the whole attitude to life, including language. (Whitman speaks to this.) A mindset that is bogged down in the anthropocentric limitations of present-day language is incapable of recognizing and transcending Otherness – whether of a creature or a ‘thing’ – and therefore can’t respond appropriately. The whole system of discourse must be changed, the whole system of values. And this is what ecopoetry seeks and stands for.
Robinson Jeffers, an American ecopoet of great moral stature, gives one of the best definition of ecopoetry: “It is based on a recognition of the astonishing beauty of things and their living wholeness, and on a rational acceptance of the fact that mankind is neither central nor important in the universe; our vices and blazing crimes are as insignificant as our happiness… Turn outward from each other, so far as need and kindness permit, to the vast life and inexhaustible beauty beyond humanity. This is not a slight matter, but an essential condition of freedom, and of moral and vital sanity.”
In the Journal, we include work in the traditions of classic ecopoets such as Jeffers, DH Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry and Denise Levertov, as well as translations of some of the world’s great poetry, old and new. But we also encourage our readers to send us poems that embody an ecocentric perspective. They will all be considered and as many as possible published.
To contact the Journal about submitting poetry, please use our contact form.