Context for this project as a whole

 

                      Initially my interest in researching for this projecting was to examine how environmental issues have been addressed by poets in the past. However, through my own creative spin on ecological thought, my goal shifted to that of contribution rather than traditional research. Specifically, a contribution to the field of eco-poetics that has not been tapped into previously. By incorporating elements of satire into many of my poems I hope to invoke critical evaluation within the readers of our current environmental predicament.

                     I began this process in searching for as many as many environmentally driven poems as I could. Among my findings were the traditional works of romantic poets which inherently focus more on the beauty of nature and not the modern destruction of it. However, I found the poetic movement that most aligns with what I aim to accomplish to be environmental poetry, better known as eco-poetry. These poets focus on poetry more broadly with an emphasis on the negative impacts to the earth by humans.  As stated by Lynn Keller, “Some of this poetry addresses conceptual challenges of the Anthropocene, such as the difficulty of grasping the scale of humankind’s planetary impact in relation to deep time, while some confronts material problems, such as the damage toxic anthropogenic chemicals and materials such as plastic do to human and environmental health” (Keller, 3). This then became the main source of inspiration for my works, the idea of creating my own unorthodox way of addressing these same kinds of issues.

 

                       Having found my niche and a pool of likeminded individuals, my next goal was to figure out the most effective way of getting my intended message across. In looking at other poetic works of eco-poets I was able to find inspiring works to draw from. Such as the experimental poetry of Adam Dickinson and Evelynn Reiley. Both of these individuals use unorthodox writing to challenge the way we view plastics. As stated, “The intriguing characteristics of plastic, then, feed Dickinson’s and Reilly’s experimentalism, which each hopes may open possibilities for ways of thinking alternative to those that brought us to our present environmental crises” (Keller, 67).

                       Next, I had to determine whether the elements of satire have been applied to environmental poetry in the past. More broadly even, I needed to figure out how effective these uses of rhetoric can be in invoking drastic cultural change. Ultimately, my search for the use of satire in the form of exclusively environmental poetry came up fruitless. However, I was successful in finding other artistic forms that have used satire as a way to wrestle with environmental issues. These include shows like South Park, political cartoons, and a wide array of movies. However, I was disappointed to find very limited use of environmental satire within literary works. Michael Branch acknowledges this absence in The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism in which he encourages “environmental writers, scholars, and activists… to enter the New Age by joyfully embracing the nurturing, healing power of humor” (Branch, 380).

 

                          In terms of effectiveness, I found that historically satire has not been an effective way of persuading or dissuading individuals. As stated, “not only does satire not change attitudes but that many readers even have difficulty determining whether or not a given work is intended as satire” (Griffin, 156). However, the strength of satire does not lay in its ability to sway belief one way or another. Rather, it is most effective at providing momentum to individuals with similar beliefs/ambitions as the creator. As pointed out, “In some instances, keeping up the spirit of one’s own side may serve to maintain the momentum of a political movement toward a political victory” (Griffin, 155). The goal for my uses of satire then should not be aimed at influencing change, but rather in motivating those already in agreement to continue the fight.

                           The use of satire as a dominant element in many of my poems is an attempt to promote environmental change through a method rarely tapped into previously. Having drawn inspiration from the creative writing of eco-poets of the past, my goal is to contribute some of my own creativity to the ongoing environmental and social plight. As stated, “One step might be for ecocriticism and ecological attempts to avail themselves to the opportunities that satire proffers, while humor scholars also relinquish pedantry and appreciate and reinforce satiric attempts to bring about socio-political change” (Zekavat, 370). Thus, these contributions of mine herein included are especially directed at furthering the field of eco-poetics.

 

                           In conclusion, the overarching goal of this project can best be summed up in a quote by Tupac Shakur “I'm not saying I'm gonna rule the world or I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world. And that's our job, It's to spark somebody else watching us” (Tupac). In other words, I know that this portfolio won’t change the world, but damnit I may as well do my part to keep the fire burning. Here’s some kindling for that fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                       INDIVIDUAL POEM CONTEXT 

 

"Generation lost"

This is the one and only spoken word poem of the collection. The reason for choosing spoken word for the form of this poem was due to the wide topics addressed and to increase the overall accessibility of the poem. In the article titled “Poetry is Not a Special Club”, Sue Dymoke makes the point that for many people, traditional written poetry is often viewed as “other” and “irrelevant to young people’s lives”. However, “spoken word draws on poetic conventions found in oral traditions including rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. It embraces popular culture, personal, and political events” (Dymoke, 2). In other words, through using the medium of spoken word, it makes the poem accessible to a wider audience. Thus, getting the obvious message of environmental action across and promoting change while also interesting more individuals to the art of poetry/the rest of the collection.   

 

“In the End?”

My goal here was to create an environmental setting where I portray a world in which humans have ceased to exist and the earth begins a regenerative healing process. In the first stanza I incorporated the effects that would be seen on monoculture lawns without the up keep by humans. Specifically, in terms of the use of pesticides. The mention of the chemical “glyphosate” here is an explicit reference to the use of pesticides in developed countries. I further built on this concept in the rest of the stanzas by referencing other aspects of human development and how without humans, nature would prevail as it is much more resilient than human construction. No matter how permanent of a fixture they may seem.

 

 “Yard of the Month”

This poem is a Shakespearian sonnet meant to be satirical rendition of modern-day courtly love. The main issue this poem is meant to address is monoculture/manicured lawns and the status symbol they represent in America. Here, I use “Yard of Month” both as a literal representation of this within the poem as well as metaphor for the entire cultural idea. I chose to make this poem a sonnet to further drive home the satirical element the message. Sonnets traditionally being about love, the idea then of a man writing one for his yard is so comedically American.

 

“Penny for my thoughts”

Although it is not explicitly mentioned within the poem, in concert with the rest of the collection this poem reflects that of a man suffering from mental illness. Dealing more with societal issues of capitalism and inequality of wealth in our country than direct environmental collapse. It is however meant to be an example of environmental impacts on mental health as opposed to just natural predispositions. As stated in Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, “genetics alone cannot account for full phenotypic variation in mental health and disease, and it has long been believed that genetic, neurochemical, and environmental factors interact at many different levels to play a role in the onset, severity, and progression of these illnesses” (2005).

I address this concept in this poem by dealing specifically with schizophrenia and its pull towards substance abuse in the narrator. Additionally, the end of the poem when the rose is stepped on is an implicit reference to the famous Tupac Shakur poem “Rose That Grew from the Concrete”. The smashing of the rose then is meant to be a metaphor for inequity in our country.

 

“Mt. Lemmon”

Mt. Lemmon is a 9,000-foot mountain that towers above the Sonoran Desert overlooking the city of Tucson, Arizona. In June 2020 there was a wild fire named, “Bighorn fire”, that decimated over 150,000 acres of this pristine desert haven. The fire was caused by the careless abandonment of a campfire that soon engulfed the mountain. This marks the biggest wildfire on Mt. Lemmon in recorded history. According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, “The 2020 wildfire season had burned just under 955,000 acres in total” (ADS, 2020). Within this poem I aimed to capture the beauty of the mountain in way that resembles romantic poets of old, before shifting to the reality that much of it is gone now due to carelessness of human activity.

 

“Kerosene”

This poem is meant to capture the feeling of anxiety. Although it doesn’t involve much in relation to the rest of the works, it reflects my own insecurities and doubts. Specifically, in terms of my own poetic works. The structure of this poem is that of a traditional Villanelle. As stated in The Puzzle of Poetry, "a villanelle is often used, and properly used, to deal with one or another degree of obsession” (Marsh, 180). This obsession being over my own feelings of failure and perfectionism. 

“Adaption”

In this poem I aim to capture the adaptability of wildlife, particularly predatory animals within urban environments. The last stanza is drawn from a study of urban coyotes within the Chicago metropolitan area which ultimately inspired this poem. As stated in an article by National Geographic, “One GPS-collared coyote named 748 and his mate even raised a litter of five healthy pups inside a secret concrete den in the parking lot of Soldier Field Stadium, home of the Chicago Bears” (Nat Geo, 2014). This is just a small example of the resilience of wild life. In essence, what I hoped to capture here is that these animals are successful in spite of us, not because of us. Much as can be demonstrated in the success of coyote in urban environments.

 

“Age of Us”

This poem is all about the lasting impact of our use of plastics in the modern era. The allusion within the poem is that the other eras, (stone, iron, and bronze age) have come and passed. The creations of these times have all but faded and been broken down over time. However, the long life of polymers in the plastics we use so liberally will not break down nearly as fast. Thus, there will be evidence of our time for much longer. Many poets have already addressed this issue in similar ways. Among the most notable works is Styrofoam by Evelynn Reiley in which she writes, “Answer:  It is a misconception that materials biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe. Answer:  Thought to be composters landfills are actually vast mummifiers of waste” (Reiley, Styrofoam). These answers reemphasize the longevity of non-biodegradable products that we use. This is this same concept of lasting impact that I aimed to emphasize within this poem.

 

“Redwood summer”

The title of this poem is drawn from the name of an anti-logging campaign that took place in California in the summer of 1990. An organization named “Earth First!” hoped to expose the logging of old growth forests by Louisiana Pacific and Maxxam, Inc. According to a New York Times article from the time, this logging company had depleted 95% of Northern California’s forests” (NYT, 1990). The poem then quickly divulges into a satirical view of logging for toilet paper. In particular by the primary toilet paper manufacturer in America, Proctor & Gamble. This is specifically in reference to the companies logging of virgin forests to create toilet paper. According to a report by the NRDC, “The companies single-use tissue products, including toilet paper, are typically made from wood pulp, mostly obtained by logging in Canada’s old-growth northern, or boreal, forests” (NRDC).

 

 

“For Wilfred Owen”

This poem tackles the issue of war and more specifically the pull that it has on individuals of lower economic standing. The title is a reference to the famous poet Wilfred Owen as it is his famous poem “Dulce et decorum est” that inspired me to write this poem. Additionally, this phrase is quoted within the poem I made which was originally said by the poet Horace. It translates from Latin to “It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.” This being a common theme of propaganda typically centered around the idea of patriotism. Having served in the military myself for 6 years, I too was easily entranced by this idea. However, the idea of dying for one’s country as an honor is in itself a lie. This is what Wilfred Owen was warning of in his poem before he also met his untimely death in war. His life and works inspire me deeply and thus this poem is meant to act as an ode to him. As well as the other men and women of this country that have died and been forgotten even though they were promised they wouldn’t be.  

 

 

“Et erit lux”

The name of this poem translates from Latin to “let there be light”. This is an explicit reference to the biblical story of Genesis. The goal of this poem is to capture the horrors of mining and its effects historically on the actual miners. The inspiration for this from an article titled “The Company Owns the Mine but They Don’t Own Us”. This article details a mining strike in 1973 by the wives of the miners as a protest to Duke Energy, the owner of the Brookfield mine at the time. As stated, in regards to their protest “they boldly addressed a history of exploited workers who labored for years only to be tossed aside when they were sick or disabled – or worse, killed in the mines” (Wilkerson, 199).

The form of this poem goes from longer to shorter lines in the first stanza, and then the opposite of shorter to longer in the second stanza. The purpose of this is structure is to mimic the public opinion on resource extraction. Where it began to fade over the years, coal has begun to make a resurgence in the American power industry over the past 4 years. At the cost of worker health and devastating environmental impact.

 

 

“Paint it green”

 This poem is a satire all about the aspect of “greenwashing” that has penetrated American culture/consumerism. The term “Greenwashing” can best be explained as, “Manufacturers, and the marketing and advertising firms working for them, responded to this new consumer preference by touting the supposed environmental benefits of their products. False or misleading environmental claims became more common, with some producers changing their labels and ad campaigns-and nothing else” (Rotman, 417). This poem then plays on the fact that companies will re-market themselves as being eco friendly while changing absolutely nothing about their actual policies and ways of doing business. Although at first it may seem that we are making a large cultural shift towards the environment being accounted for but many of these companies hide behind labels that are un-authentic and illegitimate. This in turn does more damage to environmentalism than bettering it.

Additionally, the concept of being green choice has become a status symbol in American culture. This in itself makes the concept of being a conscientious consumer more divisive than it need be. As stated in a 2007 New York Times article, “the number one reason for purchasing a Prius is that "it makes a statement about me" because "it shows the world that its owner cares" (Maynard, 2017).

Overall, the goal of this poem is to use satire to bring to light two distinct issues with greenwashing. First, to educate on what it is that greenwashing is and thus to encourage more conscientious consumerism. Secondly, to break the stigma that choosing environmentally conscious products is a status symbol. In other words, that caring for environmental consumerism does not have to correlate to economic status.

Black Sheep

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