Yuri Kim/The Bates Student
On April 22, Bates held its final LiteraryArts Live of the year, an event that takes place a few times each semester where authors of multiple genres come and share their work. In celebration of Earth Day, two poets that specialize in writing about nature, the land, how it was settled and devastated, and what it looks like now shared their work at the event. In short, they write ecopoetics.
One poet was Susan Tichy, who has written multiple books of poetry. Tracy Zeman, who worked with Tichy at George Mason University, read from her first book, “Empire,” and her current project titled “Interglacial,” which explores the industrialization of Michigan where she recently moved.
Zeman began by reading from her book “Empire” which discusses European settlement of the North American prairie and the ensuing devastation. The poem she read was titled “Taxonomic” a poem that discussed species extinction. When read aloud this poem was several minutes long, forcing the listener to contemplate their own experiences with the outdoors — well at least I did.
This is one of the factors that drew Zeman to the genre of ecopoetics: “Climate change, declining biodiversity, invasive species, toxicity, many of them point back to colonialism, post-colonialism and the industrial era … I think the destruction of the natural environment in North America has a lot to do with attitudes toward otherness, a feeling of superiority from the dominant culture (think white, heteropatriarchal) that leads to elimination, extermination, and commodification of land, peoples and other species. Investigating origins can maybe lead to insights into where we go now and how to get there” she said.
Tichy has lived in the foothills of the Colorado Sangre de Cristo, located in the Rocky Mountains, for 40 years. It is an area devastated by drought, climate change, and fires. Her first poem she read discussed the devastation that these fires bring.
“It is impossible to look at my home mountain range without seeing climate change. Drought and higher temperatures, with more rapid melting of the snow in spring, have shaped a landscape of dead trees and fire … Only a few fires capture the attention of national media. Those of us who live here, now live with fire danger eight or nine months of the year. To write of my time in the mountains means writing about this time in the mountains.”
Not only did Tichy discuss the landscape of her home, but she also spoke about her ancestral home, Scotland. Specifically, her second poem focused on the Shetland Islands, which she has visited a few times. The title was particularly interesting as it was a quote from Nan Shepherd, an ecopoet before ecopoetics was an official genre. Similar to Zeman’s, Tichey’s poems forced you to reconcile your relationship with the land. The poem’s forced you to think about the different rocks, species, topography you pass everyday. I especially liked how Tichy ensured this message got through since she explained certain words that non environmentalists or non geologists would not know.
The last literary arts lives brought solace and peace to me, something I’ve always enjoyed from these readings and if you’d like to watch the recording it can be found on Tichy’s website.