• The S.L.o.T.

    Some Notes Regarding the Nature Poem, or What Is It You Plan To Do With Your One Wild and Precious Collapse: Part Two

    The S.L.o.T. is an irregularly published feature that hosts critically-engaged, outward-facing, serial essays. We named this series after The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that entropy will either increase or stay the same; entropy is the measure of the amount of energy that is unavailable to do work, and we hope that these essays will make you a little bit less productive.

    By Ted Rees

    You can read Ted Rees' first blog post here.

    4. It might be prudent to clarify that these notes would be remiss in dismissing the ambulatory poet or poem as mere bourgeois affect, as part and parcel of “the speciousness of centrist self-regard,” as Lisa Robertson writes in reference to Peter Culley's work. And indeed, the late Culley's work undermines that speciousness, and his daily rambles through the landscapes of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island reveal a deep understanding of both man-made and wider ecosystems, with an especial focus on the interstices where the twain meet. It is a place where “the damp exhausted firework of polis / Bobs to the surface of a tainted puddle,” where the woodpecker interrupts “A caravan / of bright yellow trucks, / Jostling like bland mugged thugs / along a granulate roadway / Of broken bottles...” In Culley's Hammertown, there is no separating the violences of extraction and development and the sly and surprising outbursts of a wildness still extant. Robertson writes that it is Culley's “witnessing attention among the weathers and ephemera of the hinterland” that lends his work so much potency, and similarly, it is this “witnessing attention” in his work that allows for a shattering of the dangerous dichotomy that imbues so much of what currently exists as the 'nature poem.' Take the first stanza of “A Winter Visitation (for Deanna Ferguson)”:



    Hints of wildness

    south of town, where the names

    Become numerals and then

    again, where

    Tracts cinderblock rise from

    bogs tumescent, and from them

    Vast showrooms of icy light, which

    sear and tint th'

    O'er-hanging clouds— perhaps a bear

    occasionally pads

    Through the low wood, upon

    its shoulders a trumpeting

    Mozartean infant, perhaps

    a starveling deer, coaxed

    From the hills

    by sad necessity

    Gnaws the sugar canes

    abandoned; or


    the cats drag in, little

    Faces detached

    with epicurean disdain

    Gazing blankward up

    from doormat. . .


    As the bear pads through the woods abreast southern residences, or the deer chomps the agricultural detritus of an abandoned crop, there is a sense of the collapse of any separation between the “wildness” and the “town,” and this is as much an acknowledgement as an indictment of the destruction that arrives with development, with environmental exploitation, with extraction. Culley's poetics contain an ambulatory necessity demonstrative of a type of contemporary lyric 'nature poem' that does not succumb to easy fetishization of the wild or indulgent self-regard, but instead relies on a deep observational acuity that connects the grader to the “low wood,” the “tracts cinderblock” to the “sad necessity” of the deer grazing through manicured lawns.

    5. And then there is the fury of weather on earth, “wind-flattened pounds of matter soaked and steady for the worst,” the chaotic ecocidal depths of our present moment so brilliantly brought to the fore in Soham Patel's chapbook, and nevermind the storm. If 'nature poetry' is to be reclaimed, if it is to be remade to address the overwhelming human and ecological crises that are the shocking ambiance of contemporary life, then Patel's work is as good an example as Culley's, though its tone is most certainly one based more in deep alarm than pointed observation:


    grid marking affluence/ color/ and the sirens

    turned to bone after puddles found drains

    h2o/ skin/ grit/ faint smell of rubber burn

    set in stone/ the warbling birds out of context

    pages of my braided essay street scattered

    land on a map/ a map landed on us/ terrain

    marked in lead then rubbed/ chaossification


    What is perhaps most pressing in Patel's work is that it seems to span crises and temporalities, so that there are moments where the reader is certain that the poem is addressing the racist infrastructural inequalities of New Orleans made so visible by Hurricane Katrina, and then mere lines later the reader is convinced that the poem is actually about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the infrastructural inequalities made visible by that disaster, and then a few lines after that the reader deciphers language that appears to address the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It is a work that exemplifies what the reclaimed 'nature poem' can be: a scathing critique of environmental racism and structural inequalities, an elegy for a devastated planet, a remark upon the awesome (and destructive) powers of wider ecosystemic geological anomalies, a dirge “for leaks and/ proximity and the consumption: coughing blood.” If Culley's poems in his Hammertown trilogy exist in the observational interstices where the borders between man-made ecosystems and wider wildernesses are justly collapsed, then Patel's work is where righteous damnation and judgment of that collapse is made palpable.


    6. In her essay “Eco-logic in Writing,” Leslie Scalapino addresses the sort of temporal and geographical syncretization that occurs in Patel's work by utilizing Dogen's famous koan, “Mountains walk,” explaining her interpretation that “all times exist separately at once, present-future-past.” The logic she presents must be extended to our reclamation of the 'nature poem,' as tainted water in the past extends its poison grip in the present and into the future, and as oppressive systems of slavery and domination of the past extend their grip into the present and future, and so on and on. There is no isolated incident, just as there is no isolated wilderness or isolated man-made ecosystem. As Scalapino notes, “Each can (do) act— at the same time— on all plains and times.” The Exxon-Valdez disaster is an ever-recurring disaster as the Deepwater Horizon explosion is an ever-recurring disaster as....

    In order to reclaim 'nature poetry,' it must be understood that this sort of strange simulataneity does not diminish any singular event or life or being, but that each event and each collapse is intimately tied to all others, though these ties are not always readily comprehensible, and perhaps this is among the strangest tragedies we are consistently throttled by.




    Ted Rees is the author of several chapbooks, including The New Anchorage (Mondo Bummer 2014) and Outlaws Drift in Every Vehicle of Thought (Trafficker Press 2013). Recent work has appeared in Asphodel, Armed Cell, Elderly, and the Drunken Boat blog. Forthcoming work includes essays on David Wojnarowicz's oeuvre in Tripwire and Compline Editions' monograph on New Narrative, as well as a sequence of new poems in SET. He lives in Weed, California, which is a real place, and wakes up to a gorgeous view of Mt. Shasta every day.
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