Saturday, April 5, 2014

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: Hila Ratzabi

Thank you to Hila Ratzabi for today's post on ecopoetry and resources, too. Don't miss her upcoming workshop and reading:

Hila Ratzabi will be teaching an interactive, generative ecopoetry workshop on Monday, April 7th, at the Head & the Hand Workshop in Philadelphia, 6:30pm. For more details and to register click here. She is also organizing DERAILED: An Ecopoetry Reading on the Schuylkill, on April 12th, Philly Poetry Day, 3pm.

Hila Ratzabi was selected by Adrienne Rich as a recipient of a National Writers Union Poetry Prize, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and received an Amy Award. She was a finalist in the Narrative Fifth Annual Poetry Contest (2013). She is the author of the chapbook The Apparatus of Visible Things (Finishing Line Press). Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, Narrative, Alaska Quarterly Review, Drunken Boat, The Normal School, H_NGM_N, Cortland Review, and others. She has received scholarships and fellowships to the Willapa Bay AiR residency, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Arctic Circle Residency. She is the editor-in-chief of Storyscape. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Philadelphia where she founded the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop.

An Unexpected Muse: Climate Change and Ecopoetry

When the skies broke open in late October 2012, hauling Hurricane Sandy onto the east coast, I was in the midst of a writing lull. For a few years, poems had sputtered out of me very occasionally, but nothing I was particularly excited about. The place where poems came from was mostly dry. I had been writing out of habit, and somehow lost my center. Whatever the reasons were for this dry spell, it was painful. Then the hurricane happened and something snapped in me.

I was in Philadelphia, stuck in the house for three days, alternating between watching the storm on TV and through the window. The weather maps showed the center of storm about to land right on top of us. I was terrified. Somehow, though, we were not the ones to get badly hit. Instead my hometown of New York City was crushed, and I watched the drama unfold on Facebook as friends offered each other places to stay, volunteered to help the homeless, plodded through flooded subways––scenes of devastation and resilience. I watched the destruction of the Jersey Shore on the news. Marveling at the fact that the storm seemed to pass right over us, and our cable TV never died, I witnessed the hurricane in terrible silence.

And then the poems came. One by one they spoke to me as I read the news. They replied to the headlines in many tones of voice: with snark, with cries, with shouts. It seemed that a new kind of poetry was emerging in me. Poetry came from a place of incomprehension: Is this really the world? I couldn’t handle the news, but I decided that instead of looking away, which had been my habitual way of coping, I would turn toward the world. Climate change was becoming my obsession, and now that it had landed at my front door, it was personal.

At some point I realized what I had stumbled onto was ecopoetry. I can’t remember when I first heard the term, but its most basic definition is poetry that addresses ecological themes. Researching further, I learned that ecopoetry also refers to experimental practices of poetry that arise from an ecological vantage point, often deemphasizing the poetic “I,” turning attention away from the human being and toward the earth. There’s a lot of theory circling around the term “ecopoetics,” which is useful and interesting in its own right. Reading theory has even sparked poems for me, but I don’t rely on theory as a formula for writing. I’m allowing myself to inhabit the terrifying space of awareness of climate change, and writing out of this feeling of terror.

The poems have surprised me. Suddenly poems came from weather news, from the “prepper” phenomenon, from Inuit folklore. These were topics I never could have imagined writing about before, but there they were. Another thing has surprised me about this process: what I thought would be a depressing project has become comforting. Reading about climate change is certainly horrific, because the truth about what we’ve done to the planet is dire. But by investing myself in this information, by forcing myself to make something out of it, I have found solace in writing and sharing poems. It’s not permanent solace, and I don’t know if it will make a difference in the long run. According to some calculations, we’re already past hope for “fixing” climate change. So what do we have left when we’ve exhausted our supplies of hope? Acceptance. Insistence on making something beautiful out of this chaos. Maybe all we have left are poems.

Sources on Ecopoetry:
The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street
The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral, edited by Joshua Corey and G. C. Waldrep
Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille Dungy
Earth Shattering: Ecopoems, edited by Neil Astley
Redstart: An Ecological Poetics, by Forrest Gander and John Kinsella

1 comment:

Marcia Slatkin said...

Hila, great post. It has started a whole new area of study for me. I can find other eco-poets, and read them! And I enjoyed your "journey." I even got chills when the change came!