Ecopoetics Along Shorelines



Painting of snow capped volcanic island with part of the mountain cut away, names of differetn species cover the cutaway, corresponding to the elevation where the species are found
Early ecologist Alexander von Humboldt’s climb of Chimborazo in the Andes Mountains in present-day Ecuador resulted in this map of vegetation change in relation to elevation, published in 1807 in the seminal book Essay on the Geography of Plants. This work laid the foundation for biogeography. Source: Science Source

Our field journal prompts.

ones with *stars* are those we mention on the syllabus schedule

W 3/28: Overhearing & sampling language

Experiment with Marianne Moore’s practice of casually appropriating language from non-literary sources (technical writing, advertising, overheard remarks, etc.) as well as conventionally literary ones like diaries, histories, poetry, and drama.

W 3/28: *Reflection on Field Writing*

*In one of your field writing sessions, reflect on what role/s field writing has played for you so far, and what as-yet-unrealized possibilities you suspect or hope it might hold for you. Let these thoughts come into a journal entry.*

W 4/4: Mapping & Counter-mapping

At the close of his lecture, Amir Sheikh said, in relation to wet basements and sometimes-flooded roadways, “Hydrology remembers”. Using the Waterlines map and your own field observations, explore what hydrology remembers at your chosen field writing site. If it’s raining, watch or listen for where the water goes. If it’s dry, look for signs of water–plants like horsetails, mosses, sewer grates, a line of debris thrown up by a recent flood, patterns in the sediment. You might consider using the mapping technique Amir introduced in the field as part of this practice. We did this activity at the three locations marked on the image below, pausing at the bleachers between stop 1 and 2 to notice the shape of the land where the cut begins. Site 2 is under the Montlake Bridge, not on top of it. At that spot, the old elevation of the land is a few feet below the level of the current-day roadway.

Montlake Cut field writing map

[After looking at the Waterlines Project map and hearing Amir Sheikh talk about countermapping methods, we made sketch maps at three different locations]  How would you map this spot? You could draw, write, or both. You could make a sketch. You could think about sight, sound, spatial aspects, temporal aspects, other senses. You can put in things like weather, animals, movements of people and vessels. A map can use words, images, or both. Some maps are sung or recorded in movement, as when a bee dances in the hive to show others how to reach a flower.

W 4/11: A Poetic Transect: Edges + Associations

Cleo’s remarks on transects, which came up in the reading “Ghostly Forms and Forest Histories”:

A transect is a tool used in ecology and hydrology to aid in collecting a systematic sample of a population (of plant species, bird nests, resting sea lions, or river depths, for example). One lays a tape measure in a straight line across the land or water. When counting entities along a transect, you only count ones that are actually touching the tape measure. It’s a way of focusing vision, of reducing the bias that humans naturally feel towards larger or more interesting organisms. Usually the scientist collects data along several parallel transects and compares between them, or sums the data to characterize the larger population.
In “Ghostly Forms and Forest Histories,” Matthews writes about walking a transect across hills and valleys of Tuscany, noting chestnut groves, stools,and coppices and photographing and making notes of other signs of naturecultural co-creation of the landscape.

The prompt:
  1. Lay out a transect that begins in the water (or at its edge) and travels away from it in a straight line. You can use a tape measure or a piece of string. Make a transect that is at least 30 m long.
  2. In your journal, divide the page into two columns.  In the left column, you’ll note what edges lie along your string or tape measure. In the right column, you’ll make notes on your “transect of mind”—notes of the images, memories, associations that arise for you as you walk your transect line.
  3. Begin at either end of the transect. Note what is at the endpoint of your tape or string. Move along the transect until you come to an edge or boundary. This could be the edge of the water—or the edge of a different kind of flotsam or jetsam—or a transition between two kinds of asphalt in a parking lot—or a crack in the pavement. It could also be a conceptual boundary—the edge of a park or a property line. Note each edge that lies along the tape measure or string in the LEFT COLUMN.
  4. Meanwhile, be keeping your awareness open to any images, memories, or associations that suddenly arise for you as you go. In your RIGHT COLUMN, be noting these down. You may get 2 left-column entries for every 1 on the right, or 5 on the right between one left-column entry and the next. This is fine! Let the entries come as they will, and don’t try to force them. If you aren’t getting any right-column entries at all, try just pausing along your transect.
  5. Repeat the above processes, as you move along your tape or string, until you have reached the end of the transect.
  6. Now go through and number all of your entries in an order that seems right to you.
  7. See what you get when you read your numbered entries in this order! Experiment with modified version—writing more material between entries, or only selecting some of the entries.
This prompt is July’s variant of one used by Brian Blanchfield, which he developed out of his reading of Joe Brainard’s I Remember.

W 4/11: *Map*

*Now you’ve practiced two approaches to mapping: an ecological transect, and Amir Sheikh’s counter-mapping exercises. Use either or both of these approaches—or bring in other mapping tactics that interest you—to map some local site. This can be your field site, or a different spot. What sense data will you include, and how will you represent it? What will your map’s key or legend feature? In what direction/s will your compass arrow point? How will color, line, and perspective work in your mapping? Are there temporal dimensions? or cultural ones? or others? Your map need not be perfectly or formally drawn up, but should be developed beyond the quick sketching of earlier in-class mapping.*

W 4/18 Reflection, Refraction, Diffraction

For this field exercise, play with the concepts of reflection, refraction, and diffraction as explained in Raichlen’s Waves as you think about how to frame an ecological or poetic inquiry in relation to a place on the shoreline. First collect some small rocks, bits of seaglass, concrete, sticks, or anything that will make a splash without harming the water. Stand at a place on the shoreline, and think of a scientific or management question related to that place. This could be a question about ecology, geography, human use and access, or historical impacts and future trajectories for the naturecultures there. Write the question in your field journal. Now decide whether you will use diffraction, reflection, or refraction, then throw a rock or other object into the water.

Watch what happens, and pay attention to thoughts, responses, concepts, or associations that arise as you watch the ripples travel, interact, and eventually die away. Write these down in your notebook. Repeat for 2 or 3 more questions, experimenting with different combinations of questions and wave behaviors (i.e. reflection, refraction, diffraction).

W 4/18 *Call & Response*

*Think back to Raichlen’s description of wind movement against the water surface starting up waves. Think of this as the wind calling, and the waves answering. Their call-and-response lasts until the storm blows itself out. For this journal entry, play with developing two voices as distinct from one another as the wind and the waves. Find a rhythm for each voice, and let the two alternate in a responsive pattern with one another. (It might be the voices find a relation other than call and response; that’s fine if so.)

Are the voices human? Are both of them yours? Is one nocturnal and one diurnal? Remain open to the possibilities as you grow these voices. How will their rhythms come together in the pattern? Will they clash? Will one transform the other? Follow the call-and-response until you find a stopping point. (If you’re feeling at a loss about the voices, you can also think back to the two-column poetic transect exercise—there, you switched back and forth between columns for your lines, and the columns’ entries were probably quite different in voice.)*

W 4/25 Environmental Justice Overlays

Think back to the various conceptions and examples of justice and injustice in Sze et al.’s discussion of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe’s report on the health of the Green and Duwamish Rivers, and Alaimo’s tracing of anthropocene dissolves in the ocean. Also recall our collective free association around the word ‘justice’. Now divide a page in your journal into three columns. In the left column, write down a list of concepts, theories, or associations of  the word justice. In the middle column, think about the place or passage you are investigating through your final project, a work of shoreline relational art. Write down species, objects, infrastructures, people, activities, and historical circumstances there. Now go to a spot on the shoreline that is not your field site for your final project. In the right column, write down species, objects, infrastructures (etc.) relating to this place where you are. If any of these are also characteristics of your field site, you can star them.

Now you will make an overlay, in the form of a Venn diagram, of justice dimensions of your field site. Not all of the justice elements you wrote down will relate to your site, and not all of the observations of your site will relate to environmental justice. Draw two circles that overlap, labeling one with the name of your site, and one with ‘justice’. In the overlapping space, write down pairs (or perhaps triads) of words that signal a relation of justice or injustice. For these pairs of concepts or words that do relate, write a sentence or two below the overlapping circles (or on the following page), describing the nature of the relation between them. Finally, place the words that do not relate to environmental justice in the appropriate circle, outside the overlapping region.

The sentences you write can form the basis for your justice statement in your final project proposal.

W 5/2: Sketching Project Presentations

Consider the shorelines and surrounds at our chosen final presentation site. How do you imagine presenting your final project here? Take notes, sketch, and map as needed to get some preliminary or tentative plans.

W 5/2: Formal Experiments à la Flenniken

Try out a form from one of these poems out of Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume:

Redaction—Select a short passage from some text you wish to counter, question, crack open, or mess with. Black out words and parts of words to reveal a different text.

Green Run—Choose a two word name or phrase with hidden / insidious / shifty / odd connections. Maybe it’s something you’ve stumbled across during field forays or found in archival exploration, maybe something from your own past. Explore the diverse ways you can play each word.

Plume—Shape a poem so that the positioning of words and spaces suggest a natural process or phenomenon (in “Plume” it’s the movement of a plume of contamination underground) that’s related to the poem’s content.

W 5/9: Dowsing & Transcription

Take up a dowsing rod—of hazel if you can get it—and decide what type of flow you will be dowsing for. Walk around with a companion, and describe out loud the results of your dowsing and any associated thoughts or observations. Your companion will transcribe your words. Use these as notes toward a poem or short prose piece. (If you have no companion, try using a voice recorder to capture your words, then transcribe them yourself.)

W 5/9: Form à la Hillman

Reread Brenda Hillman’s “Rhopalic Aubade.” Try your hand at a rhopalic poem, an aubade, or maybe even a rhopalic aubade.

W 5/9: *Apparatus*

*The dowsing rod is one apparatus for tracing buried flows. Design another one. What type of flow will it detect? How does it work? Design freely, with metaphysical or science-fictional components if you need them. Reflect on the way both the dowser and the dowsed flow are intra-active parts of the dowsing apparatus. If your apparatus is simple enough to build and try out, consider adding results of a field trial.*

W 5/16: *Collage*

*Note: Do this collage on a piece of paper, not in your field journal, and bring to class on 5/23. You will briefly share your collage with the class.

Select two or more images and juxtapose them, pasting them to your paper. You may also add text (either cut out or copied), found objects, drawing, painting, etc. If you like, you may consider images or reports from your field site or final project site.*

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