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Contemporary poetic ecologies and a return to form

Contemporary poetic ecologies and a return to form

Weston, Daniel Peter (2016) Contemporary poetic ecologies and a return to form. C21 Literature: Journal of 21st-century Writings, 4 (1):5. pp. 1-24. ISSN 2045-5224 (Online) (doi:

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Ecology is currently coming under increasing poetic scrutiny in a range of terms (landscape, place, environment). Critical responses to this poetry commonly assume a relationship between form and content, wherein textual ecology – the shape of the poem on the page, the spatial and sonic relationship that its parts bear to one another – mimics or otherwise expresses the ecology that the poem describes. Most often, this has been taken to mean that a freer verse style reflects real-world ecologies better by escaping the artificial, cultural constructs of metered verse, and replacing them with more ‘natural’ free verse rhythms. The role of the lyric ‘I’ has also come under examination in much of this poetry and in accompanying criticism: experimental landscape poetry often dispenses with its explicit presence in the poem (even if its implicit influence is much more difficult to eradicate). However, these lines of thinking might not take advantage of the fullest sense of ‘ecology’.
This article argues that the continued presence of inherited (‘traditional’) poetic forms (metres and rhythms) has been overlooked in contemporary poetry addressing this set of concerns. A number of poets are noticing the way in which form can be harnessed – adapted rather than slavishly adhered to – in creating poetic ecologies. In particular, I look at sonnets or sonnet-like forms in recent poems explicitly concerned with nature, place, and environment by Jo Shapcott, Jen Hadfield, and Kathleen Jamie. In light of the environmental concerns that these poets address, the ghost of metre to be found in their work might signal an uneasy relationship between human, ‘cultural’ and non-human, ‘natural’ actors in ecology. I aim to notice a trend in contemporary poetic ecologies and offer redress to the ways in which a return to form might have been overlooked in critical discussions of the topic.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2016 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ecology, Lyric, Ecocriticism, Anthropocentrism, Form, Jo Shapcott, Jen Hadfield, Kathleen Jamie
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2020 10:52

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