Poetry and the Environment

by Emily Segal

Because our emotions can be equally as important as rationality in decision-making, obstacles to living sustainably can relate to our feelings and attitudes as well as scientific and political issues. Ecocritics believe that approaching climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective, using literature to explore how humans relate to nature, can be helpful. Poets, for example, are experts at exploring the relationship between our internal and external worlds. This can be used to address one of the problems in understanding climate change—it is such a grand concept that it can be difficult to relate to on an individual level. As Garrard (2014) and climate scientist Mike Hulme suggest, it might be time for us to stop thinking about sustainable living and development as a ‘fight against climate change’ and rather deal with the idea of climate change from a more constructive and creative perspective. Poems are a good way to understand climate change because they have flexible structures and multiple levels of meaning, which can be useful in explaining the complex relationship between humans and the environment. Climate change involves intricate connections between ecological, political and socioeconomic issues, and because of this, a complex form of expression like poetry is successful because it allows people to explain how all these issues are related in a single, concise form. An important distinction in ecopoetry is between ‘ecophenomenological poetry,’ a style that aims to focus its readers on appreciating nature in its purest state, and ‘environmental poetry,’ which focuses specifically on the changing relationships between humans and the environment. Ecopoetry as a whole promotes the idea that humans should live with nature, and not abuse the Earth only to satisfy our needs. Anthropocentrism is currently a major problem with how people think; it reflects the idea that something only has importance in terms of its value to human beings. Instead, ecopoetry urges people to see past the world as a resource for consumption. Ecopoetry adopts biocentrism, the idea that human actions should be guided not solely by self-interest but rather by the fact that all natural life has value.

Garrard, G., and Lidström, S., 2014. Images adequate to our predicament: Ecology, Environment and Ecopoetics. Environmental Humanities 5, 35-53.



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