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From: Vol.08 N.01 – Embodied Belonging: Towards an Ecopoetic Lyric

Introduction to Embodied Belonging: Towards an Ecopoetic Lyric

by Sophie Finlay

What is generally understood by the term ‘lyric poetry’? The prominent lyric theorist Jonathan Culler (99), proposes that lyric poetry is seen as the expression of a single consciousness in figurative language and usually takes the form of a short poem voicing personal feeling. If that is the case, what might an ‘ecopoetic lyric’ look like? Tom Bristow (15) writing on the ecopoetic lyric, or as he terms the ‘Anthropocene lyric’, believes that ecopoetry should distance itself from anthropomorphic descriptions of nature and integrate conceptions of humanity’s impacts on the planet. 

Lyric poetry evokes a sense of musicality via the aural nature of language. Like a song, lyric poetry, particularly as it is housed within the contemporary poetic line, works with the breath. The line length denotes a pause in the performance of the lyric poem and holds the reader in an abeyance of breath. The qualities of voice, breath and sound, suggest that lyric has a relationship to the speaking, listening and feeling human body. 

With this edition, I seek to explore two perspectives: lyric poetry and ecopoetics, and to tease out what features of lyric can be reconciled with ecocritical theory. This edition asks: how can we draw upon the properties of lyricism to enact an ecocentric form of poetry? Can lyric poetry promote connection between human and more-than-human worlds in a form of networked and embodied belonging? And, in what ways can lyric poetry, a subjective form of poetic expression, raise awareness of anthropogenic devastations upon ecologies? The thirty-one writers collected here offer a broad range of poems that work towards ecopoetic lyricism. These include poems about the human body within nature, ideas about an ecologically-based subjectivity, the ecopoetics of everyday experiences, and poems that speak to the desolations of the Anthropocene. 

Many of the poems we received overwhelmingly address the theme of ‘embodied belonging’. Jenny Pollak’s ‘In the bright Parthenon of the heart’, poeticises the boundaries of the body dissolving into the space it inhabits and the possibility for interchangeability between human and insect consciousness. Stefanie Kirby’s ‘Body Reclamation’ realises the body as an imaginative site of transformation as the poet plants a seed in her mouth and becomes open to the metamorphosis that unfurls. ‘Space is Blue in Being’ by Jill Jones locates the phenomena of space inside and outside the human body via the ekphrastic form. Rose Lucas’ ‘Summer evening at the lake’, explores the intersection between poetry, the senses and external phenomena as every moment of the body entering into a lake is captured in lyric: 

and the gentle rise    a glide 
of skin     through coolness
sipping        at the sudden dark of night

Sara Ahmed’s (171) theoretical work on emotion reminds us that knowledge is bound up with the bodily world of feeling and sensation; ‘with what makes us sweat, shudder, tremble.’ The poems by Pollak, Kirby, Jones and Lucas are grounded in the corporeality of the feeling, sensing body. They demonstrate that an ecopoetic lyric that captures a bodily immersion in nature with the sensuality of language, has the potential to activate connection between the human and more-than-human worlds.

A number of submissions explore innovative approaches to the concept of subjectivity within lyric poetry. In Brenda Saunders’ ‘Understory’, the ‘lyric I’ is avoided and the poem focuses instead upon minute observations of life processes. Saunders’ attention to the insect life of moths and beetles, as opposed to the familiarity of our mammalian connections, is significant to an appreciation of biodiversity in all its forms. Gaele Sobott’s remarkable ‘Invasion Species,’ prompts awareness of the vulnerability of endemic species as the yellow-spotted goannas face the destruction of their nesting sites by the invasive cane toad. This poem also directly enters into an interspecies perspective as the repetitive action of a goanna digging a nest to lay her eggs is linguistically enacted:

down   backfill     dead end

across backfill     dead end

down   backfill     dead end

across backfill     dead end

down   backfill     dead end

This edition also asks: how do we understand the idea of the self, speaking through the lyric poem? The deep-ecologist thinker Arne Naess (5), discusses the possibility for an ecological self, one that is relational and open to ecological otherness. It was wonderful to receive the many poems that respond to this very question and open the boundaries of human consciousness to include environmental systems. In Stuart Cooke’s ‘Edge, Hold’, the poem’s speaker forms an intersubjective relationship to the geomorphology of the landscape. The speaker of Kristen Lang’s ‘The always and never returning’ is inclusive of eco-multitudes:

 all   i   feeding in the air of this place

                    all leaf and wing  all

                            bone      becoming rock

                and soil      lizard feet

                                         wattle seed

The poetry of Jake Goetz is equally embracive, his ‘i’ (lower case) taking in cliff, wind and whale. The idea of eco-subjectivity is further complicated in Goetz’s work, and in the work of Willo Drummond, by the intertexual use of George Oppen and Rainer Maria Rilke respectively. 

It was heartening to read the many submissions that locate ecopoetics in everyday environments. King Llanza finds the ecopoetic in the nimbus clouds that ‘cradle clotheslines.’ For Jax Bulstrode the ecopoetic is viewed from their kitchen window, and for Alicia Sometimes, it resides in the ecosystem of her back garden encompassing brushtail possums, slaters and satin bowerbird. 

The poetry of this edition includes many exceptional examples of lyric that capture the sound, flow, and musicality of language. Janet Jiahui Wu’s lyrical line ‘all moon, lichen, fern, stone, coal’ and Jane Frank’s ‘Lock liquid eyes. Swim in feathered crimson’ in the poem ‘Oracle’, are words to savour in the mouth. Rory Green provides the visual and linguistic ‘rhizome lyric’, while Scott-Patrick Mitchell offers the sibilant ‘Become scree, screaming as ice unsheathes’, capturing lyric’s ability to bind itself to the ecopoetic. In Leone Gabrielle’s ‘Touch’, a lyric of the sea is interjected with pollution:

Plastic toys, marine buoys,
gas cylinders butterfly rusted, broken 
bottles, cigarette lighters decay away. Today.

Sam Morely’s ‘Black Saturday’ reminds us that poets are still coming to terms with the devastations of the 2019/2020 bushfires, and Beth Spencer’s angel of the forest protests:

— as the lungs of the world cry out
— & the matter of the planet burns
— and the sponge of the ocean leaps 
in anger

This edition collects together a range of extraordinary responses to the complex operations of an ecopoetic lyric. The poetry draws upon the sensual and emotive effects of language, the act of reading and reception upon the senses and the body, and expansive ideas of subjectivity, while the insidious impacts of the Anthropocene weave a presence throughout. The edition presents poems that enlarge the concept of an inner consciousness to encompass an inclusive environmental consciousness: the voices of plants, animals and ecosystems in both local and global environments. And it presents works that contain poetic expressions of ecological being that elicit consciousness directed towards deep-ecological care and sustainability.

Works cited

Ahmed, Sara. ‘Feminist Attachments.’ The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014, 168-189.

Bristow, Tom. The Anthropocene Lyric. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Culler, Jonathan. ‘Reading Lyric.’ Yale French Studies: The Lesson of Paul de Man, Yale University Press, no. 69, 1985, 98-106.

Naess, Arnae. Self Realisation: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World. Murdoch, W.A.: Murdoch University, 1986.

Published: November 2021
Sophie Finlay

is a visual artist and poet based in Melbourne (Naarm). Her poetry is published in multiple journals including Meanjin, Australian Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review and Shaping the Fractured Self, UWAP. She is a member of the editorial team at Plumwood Mountain journal and has also been a finalist in several art prizes including the prestigious John Leslie Art Prize.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.