Josh Corey on Necropastoral, Timothy Morton and Ecological Writing

by on May.19, 2011

Josh Corey has an interesting response to the essay Timothy Morton left a link to on this blog a while back (I’ve been reading it and hopefully I’ll gather up some thoughts as well), dividing provisionally American poets into relational and uncanny writers:


He presents the choice starkly: “Here’s the deal: do you want a detailed advertorial, a network dense with relations? Or do you need a shocking encounter with an alien entity, opaque yet vivid, illusory yet real, already there?”

In American poetry, the Wordsworthian mode manifests in the field poetics that begins with Whitman; gets developed with wildly differing ideological orientations by Pound, Williams, and the Objectivists; is newly theorized for the postwar era by Charles Olson; and manifests today in the work of what we might broadly term the empirical postmodernists. Kristin Prevallet’s 2003 manifesto, “Writing Is Never By Itself Alone: Six Mini-Essays on Relational Poetics,” is a touchstone document for this branch of ecopoetics, dedicated explicitly to “the pursuit of rationality” in an increasingly irrational age.

The postmodern mode of Shelleyan excess or the Keatsian uncanny has not to my knowledge been fully theorized within an ecological context; but certainly the “necropastoral” for which Joyelle McSweeney has become a forceful advocate is one of its strongest contemporary manifestations. If asked to find a lineage for this writing in American poetry (yes, I realize how provincial I’m being, but that is my area of expertise), I would pick out Emily Dickinson (as so often the great foil and other for her contemporary Whitman), Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, Sylvia Plath, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Alice Notley. (You will notice this second lineage is more heavily weighted toward femininity and queerness, which is probably not accidental; I would also emphasize the importance of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.) The revelatory encounter with uncanny objects, bodies, and drives dominates this poetry, which is much harder to reduce to a program or politics than the relational mode; this is no doubt the core of its strength and necessity, in Morton’s view.

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