Ecopoetics and the Ecological Humanities in Australia: An Introduction and Editorial

by Deborah Bird Rose

© all rights reserved

‘Anything we love can be saved’, Alice Walker writes.1 Her words are born of her optimism and activism, and they offer guidance today in what we may consider, following in the footsteps of Hannah Arendt, to be dark times. Arendt used this term to encompass periods of disruption, and she meant to include not only the times of horror and pitilessness which characterised humanity in the twentieth century, but also, and equally importantly, times of epistemological crisis. In dark times, the construction of law-like generalities and theoretical models is cut loose from human knowledge, according to Arendt. That which has the ability to sustain our understandings in dark times is the web of stories we are able to weave. She thus holds that the possibilities for our understandings of events and for our guideposts to action are contained in stories, not theories.2Another use of the term ‘dark times’ emerges in the context of what Felicity Wyndham calls ‘dark information’.3 She talks about the information that is all around us but that we refuse to know about or can’t see. Dark information includes most of what we know, along with all that we don’t know, about rapid ecological change, exponential rates of damage and loss, and the escalating fluidity of the landscapes in which we seek to sustain our lives. Like Arendt’s dark times, dark information equally calls for special kinds of storied communication. Poiesis, prophecy, analysis, yarning, remembrance – there are at least as many forms as there are labels: ‘nature writing, environmental literature, ecopoetics or something else entirely’.4

We live in a time when much that we love is not being saved. Our writing takes new shapes as we understand it as a form of active engagement with the cascading entropy which is tumbling living beings from life into endless death. Mark Tredinnick tells us that nature writing ‘is literature written from the soul of the world.’5 In a similar vein, Peter Boyle writes that ‘a poet should be able to write outside the human in all sorts of directions’.6 Both authors give us challenges that have the potential to call forth creative work. These challenges speak directly to the Ecological Humanities in this fulcrum moment when there are enormous possibilities both for positive change and for disaster. Communication is a key factor in moving people to act in ways that affirm a flourishing future for life on Earth, and in our search for expanded and expressive writing it is clear that in our time serious communication must be pluralistic in genre and in perspectives.

The Watermark Literary Muster 2005 enabled me to experience the rich communication that takes place when prose and poetry are brought together. At the same time, reading Peter Grant’s quest to find more places for nature writing convinced me of the need for more journal space.7 Saving that which we love includes making places where ecopoetics can flourish. Accordingly, Libby Robin and I decided to open this issue of the Ecological Humanities Corner to an exploration of ecopoetics in multiple genres and from multiple perspectives. I invited some of the people who had spoken at the Watermark Literary Muster, and others whom I had heard at recent and innovative events, and I asked people to contribute something that spoke directly to their passions for life on earth.

This issue of the Ecological Humanities Corner does not claim to offer a representative sample of ecopoetics in Australia today. What it does offer is a serious juxtaposition of forms and perspectives, creating a collage of ideas, images, analysis and exposition. Not all of the authors are in agreement; each of them offers insightful questions, and taken together they form something more than the sum of the parts.

Authors Peter Boyle, MTC Cronin, Nick Drayson, Stephen Edgar, Miriel Lenore, George Main, Stephen Muecke, Kate Rigby, Eric Rolls, and Mark Tredinnick share their words, thoughts and passions in this issue. I thank them all.


1. A. Walker 1997 Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism, Ballantine Books, New York.

2. D. Luban, ‘Explaining Dark Times: Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Theory’, 1983, Social Research, 50, 1, 215-48.

3. Personal communication.

4. Rigby, this issue.

5. In this issue.

6. P. Boyle, ‘In Response to a Critic’s Call for Tighter Editing’, The Museum of Space, 2004, Queensland University Press, p. 30.

7. Peter Grant, ‘Absolutely worth saving: finding a place for nature writing’, Island, 102, 2005, pp. 41-45.

If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please email [email protected]