Ecopoetics Along Shorelines


Tracking questions and logging resonances from our seminar conversations.


Forrest Gander & John Kinsella, Redstart: An Ecological Poetics

TRACKING: Opening Question


I tracked the first question, which is as follows:

Working with things that didn’t claim to be ecopoetics (until RedStart), what do you think about their claim of their being “ecopoetics”? Is it like or unlike what we’ve been doing in class/in writing?

The conversation began with an attempt to distinguish between eco and environmental. Classmates suggested that eco- was more about internal processes, emotion, and feeling. RedStart engages with emotion and feeling more explicitly than other authors earlier in the quarter, providing a potential distinction between certain readings in this course.

The conversation shifted to a list of definitions of ecopoetics in RedStart on page 11. A question was posed: Which definition best fits ecopoetics? While much discussion ensued, there didn’t seem to be one that was the definition but rather a combination or collaboration between several that stood out to the class as the proper way to attempt to define ecopoetics. Perhaps definitions 1,2,4, and 5 were all eluding to address the same point? In my mind, definitions 3 and 4 seemed to be in opposition, one discussing avoidance of gathering the world “into some kind of unity and permanence” and the other discussing the need to find patterns. However, opposing viewpoints suggested that perhaps the patterns were not so scientific as I was imagining but rather attempts to find purpose or looser in design or behavior. This brought up the thought that these could be read differently based on the area of study that you come from. Finally, a discussion of the interconnectedness of the definitions began and we asked, “If they are interconnected, then is there a point in distinguishing between them?”

July posed a second question: If this is an ecological poetics, what do we know about ecological poetics? After this, the conversation shifted to discussing which other poets we would want in the room, with mentions of Glissant and frequent requests for Marianne Moore. In addition, July expressed hesitations and limitations of the eco-prefix. Cleo and July posed the challenge of creating a better word than ecopoetics to use as the title of the course next year!

Much of the conversation shifted toward the RedStart reading and a valiant effort was made in the attempt to define ecopoetics based off of it. While we didn’t have the time to fully examine all the works that we have studied throughout the course and attempt to label them as an ecopoetics piece or not an ecopoetics piece, this conversation felt like the natural culmination of the work we have done in the course thus far and provided a comfortable ending note. Thank you, Cleo, July, and all of CHID 480 for a great quarter!

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


Opening question: What is ecopoetics? And how have we forged our own sense of ecopoetics?

Secondary questions that followed:

  • Of the five strategies listed on p.11, the group was asked which one feels most true as their definition/strategy of ecopoetics?
    • Some thought that all 5 point to the same activity.
  • Do point #3 and #4 on p.11 contradict each other?
    • Fine line between oversimplification and recognition of patterning.
  • Do any of the points on p.11 refer to how any of us see or practice science?
    • Interconnection between scientific and poetic ways of knowing.
  • What other clues do we have about what makes this (the text) ecopoetics to the writers?
  • If this is ecological poetics, what do we know about ecological poetics from it?
  • Is agency ego based?
  • What other authors would we like to be in the room with the authors to discuss ecopoetics?
    • Rodriguez, Marianne Moore, Kathleen Flenniken, Glissant
  • Do we all consider ourselves practitioners of ecopoetics? Has it become something we would think about ourselves? How do our projects represent ecopoetics?


Charles Wilkinson, Messages from Frank’s Landing

TRACKING: Opening Question


  • Opening Q: tracing sovereignty through treaties, legal stories
    • no compromising w/ treaties
    • use of language
    • Does having a treaty make a difference?
    • Impact of Manifest Destiny?
    • Richard Weight’s “The Organic Machine”
    • Theme of communication
      • How do we communicate treaty rights?
      • What does it mean to one group versus another?
    • How can we figure out what sovereignty means?
    • How can we in a western background come into a place for indigenous views?
    • Who else (or what) is sovereign (stars, salmon, river)?
    • What does ceremony mean?

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


Kind of hard to hear people outside yesterday so hopefully I captured the main ideas!

  • Is it a trade is one side isn’t getting anything?
    • right to fish
    • communication theme
    • thinking natives would just be “assimilated”
    • Us law written by Fed/State gov, not Nisqually
  • What are ways salmon movement is affected?
    • dams
    • pollution
    • False Bay
    • over population of sea mammals, esp. sea lions (more next week)
  • What is sovereign and who has it?
    • “the river’s just doing her thing and other people do things to the river”
    • health of the river is tied to justice
  • What does ceremony do and who is it for?
    • happy, sad, informational ceremonies
    • sacred
    • keeping certain ceremonies private, esp. for native tribes (example–no cell phones/recordings)

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


  • What was the intention of Stevens bringing an interpreter and still using Chinook? Disrespect?
    • Framing treaty as a trade exchange ==> Can it still be considered trade if one side is not getting anything?
  • If they had no intention of actually working together, why bother with the treaty instead of just taking the land? Who did it matter to?
  • Today, how should we interpret the discrepancies and ambiguities of communication in these treaties? How should we (if at all) adjust the wording now that we are more cognizant of the history and injustice?
  • What constitutes sovereignty?
  • What was happening in the landscape limiting salmon abundance?
  • If the stars are sovereign, what else is?
    • What role do river and salmon play in justice and sovereignty? How can sovereignty mean anything if you are isolated from these other entities?
  • What does ceremony mean? What can be said about ceremonies without explicitly talking about the specifics of a ceremony?


Brenda Hillman, Practical Water • José Esteban Muñoz, “A Jeté Out the Window” • Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation 

TRACKING: Opening Question


  • What is practical water?
    • defining water into relation of other things/people; defining its uses
      • water IS the relation between the different things
    • defined in scientific terms (water molecules), technical, and politics
      • it’s everywhere and overlooked
        • faucets: easy, practical, and available 
      • feminine relation (prevalent in Part 4) & feminism:
        • connections made between water and women
          • water and a source of life
          • people think of their moms as practical
          • concern w/ functionality? 
            • practical as sense of functional, realistic
              • water is REALISTIC
            • familial relations a protection
            • sacrificing “I” and to give up so much for the family
          • Is water something that defines other things, or defines itself through its relationship with these things?
        • What are the different waters the book concerns itself with? 
          • whether if he chose water to trace, of if there are other methodologies
            • California: traces of what used to be there
              • carries, mobilizes, lines traces
              • leaves traces of itself
                • an impact?
              • evaluating failure, evaluating loss?

TRACKING: Opening Question

Julie Ann

(Different ways of talking about knowledge)

What is practical water? What’s practical about any of this water? What does it mean to call water practical in this book?

Sideways approach: Another word for what water is like

Enchanted Twig — buried


What would impractical water be?

Defining water in relation to other things/people

Water is the relation…water as science…water as politics…water is overlooked…”just water”…everyday, not fancy

water as feminine, maternal, protective, comfortable

practical as realistic

Presence of practical in part 4

Mapping relation between mother/water…practical/impractical, follow “mother” piece of book

Prayer is practical “I need these things”


meditation as practice

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


For each question (in bold) possible answers follow on the same indentation.

Opening question: What is practical water? What is practical about water?
For lack of reply, re-approached the question as:

Is there a different word for what water is like?
water is “buried” (in “enchanted twig,” Hillman p.7)

(What would impractical water be?)
(Is impractical the opposite of practical? Or theoretical? or ??)
What kind of practical is this? (reframing the original question)

practical as useful – defined in relation to people who use it. What are its uses?
practical as scientific – technical language, precise, functional
practical as everywhere, overlooked, you just turn on the faucet and it’s there. everyday, not fancy – like practical shoes

water is feminine, maternal, protective. a source of life. mothers are practical – meaning realistic, down-to-earth. water, like a mother, doesn’t have grand ambitions for herself (?)
(what would an unrealistic ambition for water be?)
(is unrealistic the opposite of realistic?)

practical as gritty, detailed, not romantic

water is in many different languages (Hillman p.5)
What are the different waters we encounter in these poems?
Creeks, the ocean, rivers – almost all in liquid form, except brief mentions of glaciers and storms

water is in practice – it is practicing its wateriness

Who is the “you,” who is the “we” in these poems? (p.9, p.25)
Sometimes the poet is speaking to the water, sometimes speaking to her mother. (Water=mother?)

The prayer (p.25) is practical – asking only for what is really needed. not fantastical, overambitious, but straightforward, no-nonsense

Is the prayer from the poet to the water? or from the water to the poet?
Perhaps the speaker is becoming one with the water. Less use of “I” as the poem goes on, turns to “we” instead.

The “we” of family – a mother speaking for herself and her child – mothers are expected to give up themselves
The “we” of collective action – e.g. Code Pink

Water is permeating across, moving through, picking up traces of things and mixing and carrying them. It leaves behind traces – waterlines – dry riverbeds
Fred Herko wanted to leave behind a trace, make a statement [Editorial note – this was framed as a statement, but as taken up in conversation seemed to circle around an implicit question:

What kind of traces did he (want to) leave?]

It was an ephemeral act, but left a permanent impact.
Muñoz puts it in relation to self-immolation – Was the leap (jeté) a premeditated act of performance? Or spontaneous?
The stories are like messages in a bottle – carried by water – compromised but legible

Ephemeral, meaning dissolving into air – or water? – or sand, like an ephemeral stream – leaving behind only residues – traces
Ephemera – like Muñoz’s sources – stories, lost films, scraps

Is this perhaps like our course methodology – our investigations of shoreline relations, non-systematic, wandering? (note Muñoz’s field foray, near end of piece, as connection to our course themes)
How does it feel to approach research this way, as opposed to looking for hard evidence?

Muñoz’ piece emphasizes hopes, ideals for the future – utopianism. But suicide is the absence of hope.
Perhaps the sense of incandescence, brightness, hope in this story are based on the choice of what types of evidence are to be believed

What is the difference between Muñoz going to the field as a last resort, as opposed to integrating the approach intentionally? Is that a difference of method? or of archive?
Do we always find what we are already looking for? Can we really start with not-knowing?
How do you trust where the conclusions end up (e.g. Muñoz) when the method is based on such ephemera?

Death is anti-utopian, a finality. But also, things grow back.

Are the oppositional stances of these various pieces (queerness, anti-war, counter-poetics) linked? by poetics, by politics, by method?

(replying to, was Herko’s leap pre-meditated) Was it drug-induced? Was it really him?

What is the method in Glissant’s The Black Beach? How is he going about it?
(What are the different colors of the beach?)
(What is the value/significance of the shifting, changing beach? (p.125))
What about the silent man walking on the beach?
Circularity as practice, as meditation, coming back around to the same thing, not trying to go anywhere. Like field writing – practical – like water

Suicide as performance – is this a romanticization? Of drugs, of queerness, of being suicidal?
Muñoz also died young – we can only know him, too, through these traces

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


What are other ways to describe waters?

What would impractical water be?

Is practical the opposite of impractical?

What does practical mean when you’re talking about a mother?

What did anyone make of the 2 columns? (Re: Moon Series)

What kind of action or gesture is that recitation of water words? (Re: Practical Water)

What are the different waters the book deals with?

What is the connection between mother and water?

Who is the you? Who is the we? (Re: Enchanted Twig)

Does anyone know about CodePink?

Could Muñoz have used water to pick up traces? Is there similarity in [Hillman and Muñoz’s] methodologies?

Is anyone’s research similar to Muñoz’s? Investigatory?

How does it feel not to work with hard facts?

How does hope differ from realism?

What is the difference between putting research and/or field work first? Doesn’t it depend on what you consider your archive? or method?

How does it affect you to know that the research is based on such ephemera? Did it register as an argument? What is this method like?

What does it mean for things to grow back in [Herko’s] case?

Are these readings linked? How?

What difference does it make if he [Herko] was drugged or not?

What is natural or not natural?

What is this beach about in Glissant? (Re: Black Beach)

What are the different colors? What’s happening to this beach with its colors? (Re: Black Beach)

Is the man real? Is he the earth? (Re: Black Beach)

TRACKING: Relate to Other Texts


What is practical water? What is impractical water?

These were the first questions posed and I was personally entertained by the idea of “impractical” water and what that might entail. I immediately thought of Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) Alice books. The stories are full of impossible situations (i.g. The Cheshire Cat disappearing but leaving behind a grin) and I can imagine the concept of impractical water somehow playing out in that universe.

As I thought about it more, I was also reminded of Erik Johansson’s “impossible scenes”—surreal images that capture impossible moments or situations. This led me to search for the idea of impractical water, which I believe I found in this particular photograph:


Erik Johansson’s Impact (2016)

The water in the above photograph is certainly impractical as it’s shattering around a dismayed (or curious) kayaker.

As the conversation turns to water’s uses and relations to other concepts, the class is reminded of Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. The book is focused on relationships and the concept of identity as being grounded in these relationships. Is water’s “identity” simply based on these types of comparisons and relations?

Someone in the class points to the poems in Brenda Hillman’s Practical Water as focusing on water cycles and other mechanics. While some of the poems delve into fantasy, others are more realistic. I begin to think about Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume and how she wanted the science to be accurate.

The class ends up discussing feminism themes briefly but not long enough for me to think of any specific works. The discussion turns to the poem “Water Invocation” (page 5) and the class focuses on the last section—with all of the different words for “water”. I’m suddenly reminded of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark and the chapter we read in class. Anzaldúa transitions between Spanish and English throughout the chapter, presumably because both languages are tied to her identity. Once again, I’m left to ponder the concept of identity.

The class then discusses the poem “Pacific Ocean” and the themes of mother and family. Admittedly, I’m more drawn to the poet’s use of borrowed text—including a full URL to information about spice routes! This reminds me of Plume again as both poets incorporated these types of texts into their poems. Marianne Moore also plays with incorporated text in her work Observations.

The class begins to ponder the concept of water picking up and moving “traces”. Someone brings up José Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia and the chapter we read about Herko. Muñoz had to look for “traces” while researching Herko because he couldn’t find information from conventional sources. The idea of Herko wanting to leave a “trace” is also brought up. This leads classmates to think about Tribes and the traces they’ve left. The Waterlines Project by the Burke Museum is also mentioned as the map shows past landscapes (traces) and how much has changed.

Seminar finishes with a discussion of Glissant’s chapter “The Black Beach”. The class discusses the mysterious man on the beach and what he might represent. This isn’t really a text per se, but I was reminded of the famous case of the Somerton Man. I know there’s no direct relation but the unsolved case centers around a mysterious, unidentified man lying dead on a beach. I won’t get into the facts of the case (it’s fascinating and I suggest looking it up) because they’re basically irrelevant but that was the first thing to spring to mind.

Seminar ends.


Burke Museum. “Waterlines.”

Carroll, Lewis, et al. The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Flenniken, Kathleen. Plume: Poems. Univ Of Washington Press, 2015.

“Flights of the Imagination.” Light in the Dark, by Gloria Anzaldúa, 2015.

Glissant, Édouard. Poetics of Relation. University of Michigan Press, 2009.

Hillman, Brenda. Practical Water. Wesleyan University Press, 2011.

“A Jeté out the Window.” Cruising Utopia the Then and There of Queer Futurity, by José Esteban. Muñoz, New York University Press, 2009.

Johansson, Erik. Impact. 2016.

Moore, Marianne, and Linda Leavell. Observations. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

TRACKING: Relations to other texts




Kathleen Flenniken, Plume • Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation 

TRACKING: Notes on Glissant


opening question/concept: looking for key points of interest/articulation in the text

idea of nomadism – traveling out and then returning – errantry

there is no center – everything is everywhere

Glissant’s approach modeled on dialectical thinking – thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Looking critically for these dialectics may be a useful way to unlock his argument

who is the “Other” (note capital O) in this text? how does this relate to other authors/texts/conceptions of “otherness”

who is the “we”? (see parallel to question asked in Alaimo, re Chakrabarty, Wynter). Not a universalist “we” – note its particularity to the Caribbean, to the experience of the middle passage (“the open boat”), to blackness

what is the difference between Glissant’s “Relation” (capital R) and the usual usage of the english language word “relationship”? key aspect of “Relation” is the idea of the exploded network

key idea of “the open boat” is that of self-break, reconnection

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


Why aren’t you an activist?

This question was in response to a comment by Kathleen Flenniken. She mentioned that while she wanted her story to be heard, she didn’t consider herself to be an activist.

She responded that she didn’t have the activist personality type and wasn’t “brave” enough at the time. She wants the story of Hanford to be told and someone brings up the Obama interview at the beginning of the book Plume. This led to another question,

Isn’t the book a form of activism?

Kathleen emphasized that the book was more a way for her to find her identity and reconcile with her past. She wants the place and people to be remembered—specifically, she mentions how they were patriotic and that should be remembered. This question isn’t fully resolved.

Has your engineering background affected your poetry?

Yes, Kathleen explained that her engineering background affected her work and that she wanted everything, including the science, to be accurate. She didn’t want to poetize the numbers. Her background also gave her the confidence to address the scientific aspects of the story. This led to a new question,

Is your engineer’s voice more prominent in certain poems?

The response was an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

She explains that her word choices are sometimes from her background in engineering and geology. She then brings up the formatting of her poem “Plume” and how it’s meant to resemble a soil core sample. The gaps in the poem represent flow lines through which a contaminant could drip down. Her use of brackets is brought up and this leads to more discussion of the book’s themes,

Is there a loss of innocence theme?

Kathleen points to a specific poem, “The Value of Good Design”, and how she looks back and “no one had all the info.” She truly believed in the science and data she was given and thought she was telling the truth—but, unlike the tabletop model in the poem, waste did in fact make it to the water table.

Do you have any empathy toward the scientists with the clipboards?

She doesn’t give a straight answer at first, instead mentioning that they were all good at compartmentalizing. Then she says that she should have been more sympathetic because everyone truly believed they were the “good guys” and there should be “empathy for all of us.”

What inspired the redaction poems?

Kathleen had previously mentioned issues of secrecy and the poems played on that theme. She enjoyed that she could “say things as if they were the opposite.”

Did you originally mean to write a palindrome in “Afternoon’s Wide Horizon”?

She did want to try but didn’t initially intend the poem to have the plume shape—it kind of just happened and worked. The poem is broken up into two identities, in one she doesn’t know what an atom “bomb” is and identity is brought up again after seeing the bomb on the color TV. The seminar discussion focuses on the Atomic City aspect for a while and then,

How did you incorporate other “taken” texts into your poems?

Kathleen explains that she used the technique for accuracy and did a lot of her own research. She wanted her work to be “true to the science but still poems.” She emphasizes that it was research but not a research document. This leads to,

What’s the difference between research and a research document, since you have done both?

Unlike a research document, she’s not using many primary sources. She used research to make her work factual but used the facts to bolster emotional arguments. Her poems are based on emotion, not facts. This question is fully resolved but leads to,

Do you feel like a defector or failure as an engineer?

She briefly brings up the sexism she faced as an engineer in the 1980s but admits that it wasn’t why she left the field. It wasn’t the right fit personality-wise and she didn’t properly enjoy the job (always “watching the clock”). She entered engineering because she lived in a scientific culture and wanted the community feeling—but writing was a better fit. The idea of this kind of culture is brought up again later. First,

Why do you identify as a poet?

She begins by stating that it took her a very long time to call herself a poem. She reads poems, thinks about poems, talks about poems, and enjoys writing them. It’s just a good match. Although she grew up in a scientific culture, her best skill was always writing—even when she worked as an engineer. This idea of a scientific culture leads to the following,

What is a scientific culture?

Kathleen explains that it’s based around a belief that science was going to solve problems and change the world for the better. They were forward-thinking and optimistic about their work in the 1960s. This leads to a quick discussion about activism again and the following question is posed to students,

How is scientific culture now?

A Physics major admits that there is a more negative outlook now. Two SMEA graduate students bring up the SMEA program’s optimism—but that views have definitely changed (it’s unclear how—the conversation gets sidetracked). As STEM students discuss their experiences, a SMEA student explains that science culture now (at least in SMEA) is mostly about “trying to understand and fix the world.”

Tracking secondary questions – Ecopoetics 4/25/18 – chryptochiton
1. What can we say about justice?
Existing laws that prevent restoration
Colonizers as invasive species*
Edmonson and Muckleshoot
Unintended consequences, unexpected

2. What sticks out regarding the environment
We don’t know how much damage we’re causing – we’re not thinking at a big enough scale
Gap in vision –
Gap in vision equates humans as a species — but natives are [really] not part of this?
P148 claim from 1916 – Seattle – ‘settlers’ were already there

Read aloud from 184 – 185
Pick sentence, trace it back (final paragraph)
Acid dissolves – “Contemplating… consumerism… trace back through paper
Image: why this shell – what was this shift in perspective doing? As the shell dissolves, things dissolve into one another – nothing is truly external – comparison to an ego death – on acid – losing sense of identity
Visualizations of the shell juxtaposed with Smith’s “counter map” – relating
Fancy properties? Upscale neighborhood? “Consumerized subjectivity” — dividing the land – quintessential
Bird’s eye to submerged perspective – shell is a way of reaching submerged
? relating to creature, seeing ourselves in the water
Artists trying to ask how it’s possible to care about plankton, etc. – make it less abstract
Are humans an abstract force or biological agents – part of the biology

3 Where do you see the EJ sensibility or not? How are the dimensions similar or different to Muckleshoot case?
Alaimo – philosophical backbone – sacrificing identity/ego death – embrace that to allow for justice b/c a radical change of structure is required – not just small projects – have to dissolve your shell so to speak – EJ agenda – on the level of philosophy
Conversation about whether our efforts are — sustainable, worthwhile, etc. –
Removing an invasive species is almost as damaging? We can’t revert back – how do we adjust
*Cleo – idea of the anthropocene – awareness of profound changes – these are constant – future is unforseen – yet we’re always taking action – what is the mode that we need
“As good as we can” world
Closing Q: What matters in these theories of an ecopoetics along shorelines– theorizing this space of taking action – what’s resonating with you?
Use I/ me less ; *unintended consequences
Acting despite imperfections; Pushing the possibilities that we imagine
How can imagination and other ideas contribute to how people feel the impact [of climate change] so that more action will be taken


TRACKING: Opening Question


From the readings (Sze et al, Edmondson, Alaimo, Muckleshoot Tribe), what can we say about Environmental Justice?

The conversation started by examining the concept of scale as brought up in the Sze and Muckleshoot readings. Scale is not only important for conceptual understanding of EJ but also for analyzing the effects of projects and what their overall impact is. Comments were also made about how human and human-environmental interaction scale has changed as people and our impact has radically sped up.

Focus then shifted to the Alaimo reading, by focusing on the EJ of ourselves as a species. A big takeaway from the reading was the EJ and health consequences often come as a surprise because we lack vision of ourselves as a species in a changing (degrading) environment. While considering those that are vulnerable and already showing symptoms of maladaptation to our changing climate (people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and climate refugees), we need to be considerate that the “shell” of our entire species, our collective safety, is being dissolved by a changing climate.

In the Edmondson reading about the history of Lake Washington, some issue was taken with the assumption that native populations were always small and non-influential in the chemistry and biology of the lake. This seemed to suggest that human-lake interaction started with white settlers, a huge gap in the vision that discredits and silences the thousands of years of native-lake interaction. This also leads to seeing humans as an invasive species that showed up in the 1850’s.

Lastly we ended on themes of Property, Identity, Policy, and Balance as ways of engaging with EJ. We need to accept that concept of our dissolving shells to fully engage and lead to justice. In many areas we cannot go back to pristine or pre-white-settlement. We should strive for balance. The Earth Optimism Workshop was mentioned at the end as a way of rejoicing instead of despair.

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


Today’s seminar was focused around environmental justice and the Anthropocene. Beginning with a discussion on the Muckleshoot case brought up by Lucy, Cleo began questioning others thoughts on the case and if it came to mind when discussing environmental justice (which of course for most people, it did). Through this conversation, the issue of invasive species came up and a parallel was drawn with European colonialism as a form of invasiveness.

From here, the conversation began to shift to the Edmonson text and Cleo asked the group “What stuck out for you from the tables listed in the Edmonson on page 151 in the reader?” This wasn’t ever fully discussed to a good depth but notable points were brought up around the difference between human caused and natural events.

After discussing Edmonson, the second half of the seminar was dominated by the Alaimo text. This discussion began with Cleo commenting on how incomplete the text seemed, as if it was three different essays in a haphazard organization. Cleo then had us to read and pick a sentence from the last paragraph which most of us agreed seemed more like an introductory piece to the topic. With the chosen sentences, Cleo asked that we use it to decode some meaning out of the “shell on acid’ metaphor that was so prevalent in the text. Related questions included “How is it prospective?” and “What did the metaphor do?”

Then came a new larger question from Cleo, asking “Did anybody look at Alaimo’s approach as two fundamentally juxtaposed ideas?” I think what this question was getting at was this disconnect between human and other views of the world. Asking “Is a human capable of seeing from the viewpoint of say, plankton? Can we be objective about the environment?” Lucy began asking about what we as humans should even do, claiming “We can’t just remove all the concrete and roofs from a city to refill aquifers.” From this, the question of whether we should even try to fix our mistakes came out. “Would it be ethical to try?” “What is the subject/motive/viewpoint we need for a sustainable future?” No answer really came to these questions. We were stuck on the moral view and immensity of the problems before us.

With seminar coming to a close, Cleo left us with three major questions that were lingering from our discussions. “With all these readings focussed on action, how is this related to shoreline ecopoetics?” “Do we act on this uncertainty or let it happen naturally?” “How do I exercise my shell on acid to have a future that isn’t so bleak?”


TRACKING: Opening Question


How do boundaries make sense of the world?

Lucy was the first to answer commenting on how Strayer et. al. defines a system for how boundaries work but in doing so limits our conception of boundaries. This idea of creating boundaries by using them to categorize the world around us ended up becoming a recurring theme throughout the seminar.

Julie Ann continued this thread focused around Strayer on how our boundaries that we use to make sense in one system can potentially be invalid in another system with its own boundaries. In a way, boundaries are bounded by the system they represent (how ironic). The data obtained from one system can’t be converted over to a system with a separate set of distinct bounds.

This thread on the meta boundaries that constrict systems lead Cleo to ask if box one in the Strayer text (pg. 104 in reader) is a complete or accurate way to determine/define boundaries. In turn, this inspired a discussion on how a boundary has functions such as reflection, transmission, amplification etc.

After discussing functions, the discussion went on a long tangent for identifying boundaries in certain areas such as language or in the text of Sze. Some of the key note ideas for boundary uses that came out included language, investigative barriers to knowledge and sociopolitical boundaries between government at different levels (federal, state, local) and the people those officials represent. An example of this was the disconnect between the state government in California and the ones studying the delta, a boundary between knowledge and power that remained quite reflective when it needed to transmit the information.

Another use of boundary was in describing the human impact on the environment and the “hardness” of those boundaries. Some boundaries have hardened with human touch like damns while others have become more porous like the piping of water and other resources through mountains. Boundaries were also discussed in transformations, like the social transformation of water from being open and natural in California going to the tap of a home to serve a human need over the needs of the habitat.

The discussion continued with a discourse over the political debates in California, especially with the water rights and not much was brought up around boundaries at this time. When the talking over California water rights and law got out of hand, Cleo decided to shift everyone’s attention to our third reading Waves. This new discussion focused on shorelines as boundaries and describing the features and functions of them rather than answering the more abstract intro question. However, some of these descriptions did serve to make sense of our shorelines like the duality between reflectiveness with things like kinetic energy of the water or fish versus its amplification of things from urban development and beachfront property to the increase of wave height due to increasingly shallow waters. The quality of thickness to boundaries was also proposed for shorelines to be anywhere from just the inter-tidal zone to being all the way out when the water first becomes shallow (where the waves “feel” the bottom).

Overall, by the end we had largely came up with many uses of boundaries in understanding the world around us, being anywhere from boundaries in society and thought to physical boundaries such as shores or national borders. An interesting seminar discussion to be sure.

TRACKING: Opening question


Context: Thinking about edges, boundaries, how waves make hard and soft boundaries, how people react to ecological boundaries. Looking at Strayer et al against other readings and against our own assumptions. Thinking about how understanding boundaries and scales adds to Reichlen’s thinking and the shoreline as a boundary.

Opening question: How do boundaries make sense of the world? 

  • definitions amplify boundaries
  • created boundaries for nothing –> personalized
  • created as ordering systems, but don’t really exist in the world
  • depend on system where they were defined

Conversation moved to talking about types of boundaries (referencing chart from Strayer)

  • functions of boundaries (thinking of them as dynamic)
  • form the boundary takes affects function
  • borders (like the US border for ex.) that are permeable with certain objects (passport from certain countries)
    • makes me think of the people who exist on boundaries, who spend their time occupying them, and those whose job it is to guard boundaries
    • also makes me think about how we create all these boundaries with different ways of traveling through them, but so many creatures of the world are unaware that these boundaries even exist
  • language boundaries as example of how boundaries can’t be used to make sense of the world
    • makes me think that language was created to build knowledge/share information but the different languages (understanding vs. not) is a barrier to that transfer of information (now: barrier to the immediacy since we can easily google translate)
  • talk about purpose/intentionality — looking at all the pieces when creating boundaries (which people obviously didn’t, but was that intentional?)
  • thinking of boundaries in terms of ownership and a way to see world through mine vs. yours

Conversation shifted to talking about Reichlen with new opening question (or does this count as a secondary question?): What kind of boundary is the shoreline?

  • temporal boundary –> depends on seasonal changes
  • water regulators and sediment blockers (objects that literally are boundaries in the water)
  • contemporary — always a reflection of NOW since the water is always moving and shifting
  • reflective boundaries, fish killed in pools formed when tide lowers
  • dimensionality of the boundary (measuring along the shoreline as a line vs. the width of a wave)
  • boundary of waves and air
    • makes me think about what boundaries matter to us (humans) vs. what boundaries matter to the creatures who live in the sea
    • also makes me think of the creatures who can cross the air/water boundary and those who cannot

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


How do boundaries make sense of the world?

What are differences between exogenous and endogenous?

Are boundaries made by humans or nature?

  • why the binary?

Are there types of boundaries missing from the list?

  • it’s impossible to have a fixed set of boundaries
    • there’s always meshing and overlap: compartmentalization is impossible
  • functionality, what is it doing
    • science: a means-based question
    • defining boundary by means-end
    • a tail of a fin as a moving boundary
    • does function change?
  • ideas as boundaries?
  • language is a boundary

What is grain? (resolution)

  • can things be ignored if you don’t look at grain size
  • accident or intentional? environmental justice thought of as special interest
  • communities exist at different scales
  • like gerrymandering, environmental justice is broken up into special interest

What are different understandings of scale?

  • scale is socially produced

Geographically–people in the Delta are dispersed

  • dispersed vs diffused?
  • people think they’re doing environmental justice when they’re really enacting out narratives of capitalism + whiteness
  • there is a boundary between clean water
  • historical representations against nature

What are those “co-equal” goals + why are they incomplete?

  • scale is always political

In Raichlen- Waves

What kind of boundary is the shoreline?

  • contemporary
  • has dimensionality
  • it depends on what kind of organism you are

What can be added to the diagram?

  • hard structures
  • private/public –> property lines
  • do you have access?
  • city ecologies are not separate from nature ecologies


Luis J. Rodriguez, The Concrete River • Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark • Andrew S. Matthews, “Ghostly Forms and Forest Histories”

TRACKING: Opening Question


After reading stand out excerpts of Rodriguez’s poems, July offered the following question. (Paraphrased.)

“How is Rodriguez, as a poet, moving among and across boundaries, thresholds, edges, barriers and bridges?”

Lexine made several points related to the question. She notes Rodriguez makes the narratives of invisible and forgotten people visible in order to share across divides. She points out the similarity to the research on the chestnut trees as it reveals histories made invisible by time and lack of use. Later she talks about how Rodriguez uses poetry itself as a way to break free from his limited reality.

The conversation moved to ideas of reality as it is perceived by various social groups especially the difference between the police and the policed or the revolutionaries and the oppressors. Rodriguez writing presents a bridge between them as well as reveals the violence at the meeting of these two groups.

Jackie brings up the physical border between Mexico and the USA that Rodriguez speaks of in the lives of the characters in his poems, mostly family.

Cleo and July point out “The Twenty Ninth” as full of boundaries. (Between police and public, park and city, celebration and war, life and death, imprisonment and freedom) July asks how they are functioning for Rodriguez.

The conversation moves towards language use, role reversals and healing. This leads to talk about the drug induced hallucinatory journey as described in “Concrete River.” Rodriguez crosses the boundaries between reality and fantasy, enters the space between life and death and escapes the barrier of his oppressed status through drugs.

July brings up new questions about L.A. and its river. We then move to discussing the Anzaldua in more detail.

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


+ Do we see poetry bridge what’s seen and not seen?

  • How does blurring and transcending customary frameworks come into play?

+ What lines and boundaries do we encounter?

  • What are the lines for Rodriguez?
  • Where do we see lines in the text?

+ Movement of bridging?

+ How can we characterize Rodriguez’s terrain / LA?

{marginilized, bright, lustful, rugged, angry}

+ Additional objectives after the conversation about the concrete river?

+ How is the river in this poem the anchor in the ecology?

  • Is that the switching we see with riot police?
  • How many others died due to huffing paint in this river bed?

+ Do we see other instances of resistance?

+ How do we think about the differences in language in text or poetry?

  • What can we perceive about these inserts (of different languages)?
  • Anybody who is multi or bilingual, can you contribute?

TRACKING: Relate to other texts/scholars


There is a particular line in The Concrete River’s “Deathwatch” that stuck out to me. Rodriguez writes, “By renaming things, he reclaimed them”. When reading this, I drew an automatic connection to several sources. Although not an outside source, I see a connection to Anzaldúa’s use of “serpent” and the idea of reclamation by renaming. Anzaldúa writes, “’Don’t go out late at night; a snake will make you pregnant.’ Hers was a cautionary tale so that I wouldn’t bare my body like the gringa girls. ‘Don’t go out late at night; a snake will enter your vagina.’ But my mother was really saying, ‘Don’t go out late at night; a man will rape you.’” Here, the snake represents both sexual oppression and physical threat toward women. Anzaldúa renames the snake image, stating ‘But the snake of my imagination is female: Serpent Woman…” and in doing so, reclaims the previously oppressive framework to be a symbol of empowerment and safety, calling the snake her “guardian animal”. The above demonstrates the power and empowerment in renaming. However, Rodriguez’s quote also prompted me to consider our trip to San Juan Island and the exercises that we practiced in naming. This quote seems to be directly related to many of the writing prompts and readings that we had while on San Juan Island, particularly at False Bay and Smallpox Bay. While Anzaldúa’s renaming was empowering, the renaming of Smallpox Bay by Vancouver was imperialistic, the renaming of False Bay was utilitarian. In addition, the theme of renaming reminds me of An Octopus by Marianne Moore and her choice to use Mt Tahoma rather than Mt Rainier in her poems. This re-renaming, so to speak, demonstrates follows the theme presented by Anzaldúa, showing reverence and respect for the indigenous name of the mountain.

Additionally, I drew a connection between Anzaldúa’s “serpent” and Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Tsing seems to explore queer and ecofeminist theory in “What Kinds of Monsters Are We Now?”, a section in the introduction. Tsing states, “[Martin] Luther helped forge what we think of as the modern world through his campaign against category-crossing monsters…The landscape-making practices that followed from these new figures imagined the world as a space filled with autonomous entities and separable kinds, ones that could be easily aligned with capitalist fantasies of endless growth from alienated labor”. In a summary of the introduction, Tsing states that monsters are used “to mix up bodies, challenging the rhetorical reign of the autonomous individual”. Monsters and serpents, by Tsing and Anzaldúa alike, are reclaimed from their negative associations and used as terms of empowerment. The challenging of traditional, heteronormative, capitalistic ideology via naming is present in the writing of both authors.

TRACKING: Relate to Other Texts and Scholars, part 2

Julie Ann

Much of the discussion, as has already been said, related Rodriguez’s poetry to Anzaldua’s writing, whether it is the different use of female imagery, use of both Spanish and English, and themes of disconnect from “reality.”

Discussion of the LA River as “The Concrete River” brought up a book by Joe Linton called “Down by the Los Angeles River,” a guide to some of the places and flora/fauna along the river. Side note: my personal knowledge of the LA river is a scene from Terminator 2 where Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a Terminator) is fleeing with the future savior of humanity (John Conner) by riding a motorcycle down the dry concrete bed of the LA River. Which, now that I think about it, is another use of the Concrete River as an escape.

A short discussion of language brought up the use of words, their mean and a mention of the book “Why are Faggots so afraid of Faggots” and the NWA album “Straight Outta Compton.”

And although it didn’t come up in the discussion on boundaries, Ta-Nehisi Coats wrote a piece on Michelle Obama (“American Girl”, in the book “We Were Eight Years in Power”) that contains an interesting exploration of the community boundaries of the South Side of Chicago and what those boundaries mean to the worldview of the people who grew up and/or live there, including Michelle Obama.


Anna Tsing et al., “Bodies Tumbled Into Bodies” • Coll Thrush, “City of the Changers” • Klingle, “Fluid Dynamics: Water, Power, and the Reengineering of Seattle’s Duwamish River” • Amir Sheikh, Waterlines

TRACKING: Opening Question


Opening Question: “What are ways you might finish something or the way something might be finished? What sort of erasure comes from finishing? What has a sense of ‘finished’ in any of the texts or Amir’s presentation?”

  • a product of finishing something is a sense of perfection for industry and economy
  • something being finished would have a sense of completion or a sense of transformation to an economic unit

A new, secondary, but related question is posed: Can you ever call a city “finished” since everything is constantly still in development?

  • there is an improver’s drive to finish things; things can always be better, so people strive for perfection
  • since society’s needs change and people are dynamic, you can’t call a city complete

Another question is posed: Texts talk about development, infrastructure, and industrial projects being superseded by one another; what is fixed? This leads to a digression from the original topic of what is “finished.” We return to this subject in discussing the phrase “when the tide is out, the table is served.”

  • Developers felt a duty to “finish” nature and that the indigenous people were not properly taking advantage of the resources God had provided for them. This concept of finishing and maximizing nature is capitalist- and Enlightenment-driven thinking.

The original question is restated: What might you think of this notion of finishing if people covered your clam beds with sawdust from Denny Hill?

  • Due to the nuances of language, “finished” can be either positive or negative, depending on the context
  • Colonizer’s/developer’s idea of finishing something was making it as simple as possible because nature is too complicated. However, simplifying (“finishing”) the landscape brings a new batch of complications
  • Currently, people are concerned with the restoration of Seattle, so would that imply that we are in a post-finishing society?
  • The language of finishing and restoration implies attempting to make something look how it once did in its purest state
  • The idea of finishing something is individualized–something is finished to you if it is the way that you envisioned it

There is a brief digression on the topic of environmental restoration, but the conversation is brought back to the idea of what it means to be finished.

  • An example of something we would think to be finished are ancient civilizations, but can we truly call them finished if we are still learning from them?
  • Muckleshoot and Swinomish people are persistent as people try to erase them, refusing to let themselves be finished
    • This brings up a new perspective of a people being finished as opposed to an environment
  • Only man’s greed asks for nature to produce faster than it does, leading to the belief that they are “never finished”
  • A restaurant might serve the same salmon year-round (despite natural tendencies) for consistency: as a way of wiping impurities or “finishing”

The topic of the opening question, “finishing,” is present throughout almost the entirety of the seminar. What I pulled from the points everyone made was that the people who built the city of Seattle in our current location were motivated by the need to make what was given to them in nature more convenient for themselves and their way of life. That simplification can be equated with what their idea of a “finished” Seattle might have been. However, since the demands of society are constantly in flux, and there will always be more people wanting to make change, there is no way for something like a city to be truly finished. There are likely other interpretations and conclusions that could be formed from this seminar, but in regards to the opening question, this is what I felt would be a (dare I say) finished answer.

TRACKING: Opening Question


Settlers try to “finish” the landscape. Symbioses as water moves across the land are somewhat monstrous to early settlers. Cleo asks, “How might we finish something? What kinds of erasures might be accomplished through finishing?”

A few opening responses—

  • Think of the transformation of Harbor Island—the sense of perfection for industry and economy, the successful product of finish, the sense of completion and transformation into an economic unit.
  • Don’t know if cities can be finished…will people ever be satisfied with it?
    • Even today, there is an expansionist drive. We can always have another skyscraper, a more perfect skyline. And we’re trying to make the space greener now, when that was once all it was.
  • You can’t complete the city; as time goes on, people’s needs change.

“Seattle was a bad place to build a city.” Think of how difficult it was to develop into what it is today… Stephanie wonders about New York City and whether it was similarly difficult to develop. Amir Sheikh chimes in on the historical ecology of New York and mentions the Mannahatta Project—

  • The project founder was criticized for his Garden of Eden/tabula rasa trope that neglected the indigenous past on the land.
  • The project was retrofitted with indigenous content.
  • Amir mentions his own cultural landscape perspective in his Seattle mapping project: bringing in multiple narratives, interweaving these narratives and showing connections to re-conceptualize people’s relationship with place.

Lucie mentions growing up on Lake Washington, and has difficulty imagining the lowering of the water level and consequences for the Black River, which completely dried up. (The finishing of the landscape).

From the Klingle article, July points out that engineers assemble to “finish” nature, this notion linked with the idea of manifest destiny and what Jesus wanted, the sense of inevitability… Amir adds that this drives our economic system: Capitalization, yields, going where the market is, and creating the most profit. Capitalism drives the “maximized” use of the land.

Another spin on the opener, “What might you think of the notion of finishing when someone comes in and finishes clam gardens and fills them with sawdust?”

Lexi talks about the semantics of “finishing” and mentions the nuances of language that alter the meaning of the word, which is also dependent on personal values.

Julie Ann highlights the push for simplification in the act of finishing, the act of a straightening ruler because a twisting path is too complicated. But the process of simplification only brings up new complications.

  • Think of the Army Corps of Engineers who simplified in the past, and are now trying to correct that.

Page 19 of the Tsing reading is brought up. Liquefaction of the ground during earthquakes, rising sea-levels, climate change… We might think we’ve finished but we haven’t. Think of ancestors who have seen glaciers come and go. Stasis and dynamism… the land keeps moving.

Tsing and Thrush… the regraining of Seattle

  • The biological response to us trying to finish things, viruses and bacteria taking over…
  • “post-finished” era
    • Now we’re trying to go back.

Someone wonders if the green movement in Seattle comes from the dark past of reconstruction. Now this re-greening is an effort to return to what it once was.

Going back to semantics, someone else mentions differences in the meaning of finishing… finishing projects in school vs. someone new always wanting to finish the city in their way. Therefore, unlike an individual school project, the city is no ONE person’s.

This question, then, of re-finishing and dynamism. Someone mentions the terms “finishing” and “restoration” and says the words make him think of furniture finishing/restoration, particularly in the sense that it just keeps going.

Lucie mentions a couple interpretations of “finishing”—

  • Finishing school: the taming of women as property, just as the land is property.
  • Eating, finishing eating. “I’m finished eating.”

The entanglement of humans in the ecosystem to the point we cannot disentangle. Think of the salmon on Fidalgo Bay.

  • Restoration ideals to go back to pre-human conditions but actually humans are integral to the environment (i.e. with the camas plants, etc).
  • It is necessary to redefine the human relationship with nature as legitimate and dynamic.

The Thrush article and the notion of persistence. “What are things that aren’t finished?”

  • Legacies, traditions that live on… Thoughts of civilizations, like the Aztecs. Are they really finished when we’re still talking about and learning from them?
  • The flooding in Houston, which used to be a seasonal wetland. The wetland thus re-emerges…
  • Thoughts of indigenous tribes not letting themselves be finished, persisting, someone mentions Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”
    • In 1000 years, native peoples may see the rotting space needle. (Planet of the Apes connection)
  • Stories that persist from the last glaciation, centering narratives of resistance (vs. narratives of vulnerability).

Finally, back to the Tsing article. “Any notions of countering finishing?”

Someone answers, we try to control the narrative of symbiosis and monstrosity. Now we are recreating the very ecosystems we destroyed.

TRACKING: Secondary Questions


Are cities finished?

  • people are never satisfied; so much construction in Seattle

What is emphasized in Thrush? Did it give a different sense of place?

  • people selling fish in Ballard represent overlaying communities
  • how would people react to houses on Lake Union
  • Lake Washington lowered
    • Thrush article puts native narrative at the forefront
      • didn’t question indigenous knowledge
      • “when the tide is out the table is set”
    • Klingle flips indigenous phrase to demonstrate Western consumerism
  • White settlers/ capitalists thought they were doing God’s work
    • thought indigenous people weren’t ergonomically using the land
    • (this was done through an active dehumanization of native people by white settlers)
    • in the end, white settlers wanted the land
    • capitalism drives white expansion

How did Swinomish talk about clam beds?

  • finishing meant destroying clam beds
  • trying to control river dynamics
  • the Army Corps main people trying to control

W/ salmon restoration: how do you restore rivers, debris?

  • Cities are placed on Deltas b/c confluence

Persistance as an indigenous temporality?

  • a legacy
  • rising–> waiting to rise

If you’ve seen transformation, does it make it easier to imagine new transformations?

  • indigenous knowledge centers resilience (instead of vulnerability)

What is useful in monsters?

Why is Seattle “environmentally-conscious”?

  • and how much of this is based on white notions of conservation?

TRACKING: Secondary questions


How did finishing come up/how did you connect to the idea?

  • Harbor Island fixed & finished, search for completion and perfection
  • drive to fix/finish vs. drive for expansion–wondering if you can complete a city

What are some other things in the text that show things as ‘fixed’?

  • “Seattle was a bad place to build a city”
  • Does NY have similar issues?

What are some of the different sources/places that were emphasized and gave a different sense of Seattle?

  • selling fish in Ballard, picturing those communities now overlaid with what we know of the neighborhood now (referenced pg. 27)
  • pg. 55: Klingle attributes tide quote to Lt. which flips how we’ve previously heard the phrase
  • capitalism driving these changes to maximize the use of land

What does finishing mean (re: Swinomish Tribe) when clam beds get covered?

  • not finished, can bring things back
  • creation of projects and how language operates in this context
  • finishing as way of simplification, “ecological simplification of modern world” (pg. 19)

Interesting to think of us in post-finished era, now trying to fix what we’ve done, maybe restoration

  • does drive to be ‘green’ come from dark history of Seattle? And what does that mean for the South? Trying to figure out where these differences come from
  • finishing as beautification (with an opinion). Goes from industrial –> green –> ?
  • us shaping how we want landscape/city to look

Are you fixing things due to necessity or desire?

  • Mississippi River as an example, Hurricane Katrina example

Is restoration a way to remove humans from environment or redefining relationship with nature?

  • humans existed and had a relationship with environment in past
  • how do we manage ‘doing good by nature’ on planetary scale when narrative isn’t linear?

What are other framings for ‘finished’?

  • legacy–>ended but lived on in other capacity ex: Aztecs as finished city, but story isn’t done
  • people waiting to be accepted into academic fields (“we rise, we rise”)

Turning to notion of monsters and symbionts, what is it that’s useful for countering notion of finishing?

  • monstrosity as part of symbiotic relation, necessary part of symbiosis and not to be repressed
  • Norwegian salmon farms –> recreating ecosystem
  • What should be valorized?

TRACKING: Relate to other texts/scholars


Settlers were trying to “finish”/“fix” the landscape—Finishing:

  • Settlers who ‘fixed’ indigenous children—sent them to American schools, taught to dress/talk differently
    • Happens with every instance of colonialism
    • Fixing people/cultures/customs that are different than our own
  • “finishing” still continues in Seattle
    • vs. other states in the US (outdoorsy but not green)
  • Colonialism—fixing a new region, new group of people
  • Sandy from Grease, Princess Diaries makeover, Devil Wears Prada, Miss Congeniality
  • GMO foods: fixing natural imperfections (vs. Imperfect Produce)
    • Fixing nature
    • Cloning or breeding animals
  • Finishing the land FOR the native people—assuming that settlers can do it better than natives
    • How natives were handled by settlers going EastWest
  • God’s work (Christianity):
    • fixing people by rescuing them from bad decisions, hell, other religions, polygamy
    • The people who go to local events, protests, marches, etc and hold gigantic signs that say to turn to God to be healed/SAVED
  • Working TOWARD being finished
    • Sea wall, combating climate change, being greener, etc.
  • Restoring rivers and beaches—back to “normal”
  • Finished legacy: lines of royalty, politicians that are in the same family
    • Aztecs, Incas – finished if people are still talking about and learning about them; there are still people who descended from ancient indigenous people, even if their cities are not there anymore
  • Finishing school work, assignments, tests, high school, undergrad, etc.
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