Zoopoetics assumes Aristotle was right. The general origin of poetry resides, in part, in the instinct to imitate. But it is an innovative imitation. An exploration of the oeuvres of Walt Whitman, E. E. Cummings, W. S. Merwin, and Brenda Hillman reveals the many places where an imitation of another species’ poiesis (Greek, makings) contributes to breakthroughs in poetic form. However, humans are not the only imitators in the animal kingdom. Other species, too, achieve breakthroughs in their makings through an attentiveness to the ways-of-being of other animals. For this reason, mimic octopi, elephants, beluga whales, and many other species join the exploration of what zoopoetics encompasses. Zoopoetics provides further traction for people interested in the possibilities when and where species meet.
Gestures are paramount to zoopoetics. Through the interplay of gestures, the human/animal/textual spheres merge making it possible to recognize how actual, biological animals impact the material makings of poetry. Moreover, as many species are makers, zoopoetics expands the poetic tradition to include nonhuman poiesis.
“Zoopoetics is an original, lucid examination of how animals shape the human art of poetry. Drawing upon the foundational work of such scholars as Paul Shepard, Donna Haraway, and David Abram, Aaron M. Moe uses the Derridian concept of ‘zoopoetics’ to deepen our understanding of language and our understanding of what animals mean to humans. Without other species, we might be essentially voiceless. This is a significant study of ‘animality,’ one of the central paradigms in the field of ecocriticism.” —Scott Slovic, editor of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
“Moe’s Zoopoetics lucidly demonstrates that poetry is a shared space in which human and other animals may ‘stretch toward’ each other, a space in which many of our best poets in English attend to nonhuman poiesis. This is a timely and important contribution to ecocriticism and animal studies.” —Helena Feder, author of Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture
“Toward a Zoopolis: Animal Poiesis and the Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Brenda Hillman.” Forum for World Literature Studies (Central China Normal University, Shanghai Normal University, and Purdue University). Special issue on ecocriticism: section on Animality and Ecocriticism. Guest Editor Scott Slovic. Forthcoming in June 2014.
The poetry of Emily Dickinson and Brenda Hillman casts nonhuman animals as part of the polis. Their perspective resonates with the emergent animal rights theory, explored by Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, that draws on political theory in order to rethink animal-human relationships in what they call the zoopolis. Dickinson and Hillman’s perspective further informs the zoopolis. For both poets, animals have earned their place in a multispecies polis because of the self-evident manifestations of their alternative ways-of-making. Such poetry calls for expanding both the poetic tradition and the polis to include other animal makers. Whereas my book focuses on Hillman’s Practical Water, this article explores her 2013 Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.
Here, I demonstrate that zoopoetics is not a minor event in American poetry of the long 20th century, for I highlight how zoopoetics is at work in the very genesis of Whitman’s poetic vision: “original energy.” Whitman’s poetics of the body is not limited to the human; rather, nonhuman animals also generate and respond to the material energy of the body. I argue that Whitman’s poetic vision is consanguineous with Kennedy’s theory of a universal (human & nonhuman) rhetoric founded on the rhetorical energy of the body. Moreover, I demonstrate how Whitman discovered some of his most innovative breakthroughs in poetic form through an attentiveness to another species’ bodily poiesis.
This essay introduces a more thorough understanding of zoopoetics into literary discourse. Zoopoetics, in short, is a perspective that exposes how the agency of nonhuman animals are handled in a text. Though the notion of “agency” can have many possible facets, I focus on an agency that arises from how nonhuman animals are imaginative, rhetorical, and cultural beings. The second half of the essay, then, applies zoopoetics to close readings of texts by Cummings and Merwin.
When scholars discuss Cummings’ Fairy Tales, they normally focus on the biographical context: Cummings wrote three of them for his daughter when she didn’t know he was his dad, and one of them, presumably, for his grandchild. This essay exposes, though, how many of the crucial tropes throughout Cummings’ life long vision emerge in an early tale in surprising ways.
In this article, I expose how EIMI documents Cummings’ cultivation of an ecological self within the cities of New York, Paris, Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, and Istanbul…and how No Thanks continues the thematic exploration of two ideas: 1) the liminal space between SHUTNESS & OPENNESS; and 2) the individual’s cultivation of an interrelated self in an urban context. Cummings’ i is often seen as a statement of individuality, but my read locates the i as a continuation of Whitman’s all-encompassing and ever-expanding self.
This is by no means an exhaustive look at Cummings’ use of the exclamation mark and the motif of look within his work; however, it does a good job of establishing the dialogical interplay between these two ideas. The essay makes three moves: 1) it explores both motifs; 2) it explores their explicit convergence and, in turn, the implicit implications; and 3) it locates this discussion within an ecocritical context.
I dedicate this article to my students, who discovered the cat’s flips and taught me how to look.
For quite some time, I thought that Cummings’ grasshopper poem outperformed any other experiment Cummings created. Now, however, I am not so sure. The essay employs a two fold approach to Cummings’ cat poem: 1) a close reading of the poem from the perspective of chaos theory; and 2) a discussion of the thematic implications of the poem’s conflation of ! with the lowercase i.
This article establishes several key terms from chaos theory including (dis)order, turbulence, feedback loops, autopoiesis, and complexity, and then it demonstrates how the language of chaos theory electrifies a close reading of Cummings’ visual poems. Each of the visual poems explored epitomize an extreme upheaval of language, but an underlining and inscrutable pattern (a deep structure) paradoxically infuses the linguistic ruptures. Cummings draws the reader’s attention to the details of nature through his innovative crafting of the details of language–but it is a language intensified by the harmonious tension between order and disorder. The coexistence of (dis)order epitomizes chaos, and well before Edward Lorenz’s discovery of the flap of the butterfly wing, Cummings had already delved deeply into the chaotic flux of language.
“Poetry & Expanding the Ecological Self: A Contextualization of Cummings’ Typographies within the Modernist Ecological Vision.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 16 (2007): 134–155. Print.
Despite the fact that innovative experimentation marks many modernist texts, Cummings is still sometimes categorized as a periphery figure. Like Eliot, Stein, Pound, and Lowell, Cummings developed a unique poetics built around a play within the oxymoron “fragmentary wholeness.” However, “Poetry & Expanding the Ecological Self” seeks to contextualize Cummings within what has been called the greener side of modernism. Using Arne Naess’ idea of ecological identification, the article explores how the language of many modernist writers, including Cummings, nudges the reader into an awareness of the interconnections within the fabric of the earth.
Though I revised this piece while at Washington State University, I originally wrote it when living in Colorado, working as a teacher, an arborist, and yet pursuing a scholarly career. Elements from each of these facets of my life emerge in the article as it blends personal narrative and ecocritical theories into what I hope is a provocative exploration of living with trees in an urban context. As (perhaps) expected (for people who know me), I sprinkle ideas from Merwin, Cummings, and Whitman into the conversation as well.
Reviews and Short Pieces
“‘Wreading’ Merwin: A Review of Until Everything is Continuous Again: American Poets on the Recent Work of W. S. Merwin. Blog Post on Merwin Studies: Poetry | Poetics | Ecology. Eds. Aaron M. Moe and Rebecca L. Stull. 15 March 2013. Web.
“Kincaid and Linnaeus Fistfight in Heaven.” Part of Online Teaching Guide of Deming and Savoy’s The Colors of Nature. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions. (Forthcoming).
“A Review of Iain Landles’ The Case for Cummings: A Reaction to the Critical Misreading of E. E. Cummings.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 17 (2010): 149–151 Print.
All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://aaronmoe.com.