“The Poem is the World”: Re-Thinking Environmental Crisis Through William Carlos Williams’ Paterson; Return; & Leaving
In his 2002 book Greening the Lyre: Environmental Poetics and Ethics, David Gilcrest argues that our attitudes toward the natural environment will only change as a result of “environmental crisis” (22). Although this prediction is apt, as evidenced by the rise of resistance to environmentalism over the past two decades, it implies that such environmental crisis must physically devastate the Earth before action will be taken.1 Such a model of apocalyptic environmental activism, however, has proven to be ineffective. Many contemporary readers are turned off by this brand of environmentalism because it predicts disaster without the hope of preventing it. As such, I would like to think about how Gilcrest’s claim can be examined through the poetry of William Carlos Williams, one of the best-known American poets of the twentieth century. In this paper I will argue that ecopoetics in William Carlos Williams’ long poem Paterson allows crisis to occur in a text, creating both a material and potentially allegorical poetic experience for the historically situated contemporary reader. I will consider how language becomes material in the text and argue that the physicality of the words, which appear to be formally and structurally impacted by the natural disasters described in the text, may function as allegory for present-day environmental concerns. I will argue that Paterson’s power as both a material and allegorical text may resonate in ecopolitically meaningful ways.
Leaving. Elana Santana.
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