Murmurings

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Center Valley, PA, USA

On a crisp, abundantly clear day (for a change!), I opened the car windows to listen to the corn stalks rattling in the breeze. After an unusually wet year, the fields have been too wet to bring out heavy farm equipment, like gleaners. They would get stuck in mud. So the corn stands and, finally, dries in the rapidly-cooling air.

And rustles and swishes, and produces the susurration associated with tree foliage, only louder, harsher. The November sun heightens the contrast between the grassy-looking stalks and the crowd of shadows below the strap-shaped leaves. Zea mays: one of the incredibly numerous poaceae monocots. Field corn, in this case. It surrounds two sides of the campus where I work. On windy days, I can hear it murmuring. It has a wistful sound to it, each plant crackling softly against its many neighbors.

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Ascribing human emotions to non-human things is something poets often do and for which they have been occasionally excoriated (see the pathetic fallacy). It is really I, not the field corn, who’s feeling wistful. There’s no reason not to occasionally explore things such as the pathetic fallacy, anthropomorphism, or clichés in poems, though. Poems can be places for play, puns, irony, and over-the-top expressiveness…where else but in art do we have so much possibility for free rein and experiment?

With that in mind, what came to mind is a decade-old poem I played with long ago. I thought of it, located it in my files, and realized how well it suits this year’s rainy weather. It has never seen print, so this is its first public “share” to the small world of readers. Just to be wistful, and to listen to murmurings.

Fallacy Pathétique

Awful, the sobbing breast of the nearby hill
draped in funereal rain,
moping trees with bedraggled leaves
under dolorous skies.

How coarse and crass the indigent crows
mocking day’s solemnity
over pleading calls for mercy, compassion
from the myriad finches.

Do not quench sorrow but be drenched in it,
small streamlets fast-running
down ratty embankments dull with mud.
O, morning, mourning,

lease your grief to field and gravel and
the huddled owl’s
damp-pinioned back hunched in sleep.
Be terrible and bleak,

stained with the nouns and adjectives of despair,
run down the mountain
with a mouse carcass on your swift spine,
meet the road in a reeking ditch.

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Endemophilia, toponesia, psychoterric states

Thanks to poet Annie Finch, I came across a thoughtful essay in Aeon magazine–an exercise in synthesis and interdisciplinary thinking that connects with Naess and his notion of ecosophy; and with Bachelard and others whose work I have lately been reading and thinking about. Liam Heneghan combines ecology, botany and topography with Winnie-the-Pooh and explores transience and trans-placement from several viewpoints. He looks at how so many of us are transplants, foreign “invaders,” culturally and biologically, and asks us to think about how we feel about place–home-place, in particular.

Not all of us connect with the concept of a home-dwelling anymore; but if we do so, that place is generally closely associated with childhood, observes Heneghan. He cites environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht and says:

…we do not yet have an adequate vocabulary to address our ‘psychoterric’ states — or how the state of the Earth relates to our states of mind. To balance the negative psychological state of ‘nostalgia’, a couple of years ago Albrecht proposed ‘endemophilia’ (the sense of being truly at home within one’s place and culture — or ‘homewellness’). To balance the term ‘topophilia’, a love of place, Albrecht opposes ‘solastalgia’ — the desolate feeling associated with the chronic decline of a homescape. Solastalgia names the emotions we have at the loss of species and habitats through climate change and other environmental changes. We should all expect a lot more of it.

I do know those feelings, and I feel happy to have terms for them! Yet I argue that we do have an adequate vocabulary for how the state of the Earth relates to our states of mind, and that vocabulary is artistic. I believe the finest expression of these kinds of emotional-memory sensations can be found mainly through art. My task for myself in the coming weeks is to gather a few examples of endemophilia, solastalgia, and other “psychoterric states” in poetry. I’ve already got a few in mind.

Please read Heneghan’s essay if ecopoetics or the notion of homescape appeals to you.