Saturday, April 04, 2009
STANFORD, CA The nexus between poetry and the environment is not self-evident to most. That's why Stanford English professor John Felstiner wrote Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems (Yale University Press) in time for Earth Day, April 22. As we hover on the environmental point of no return, Felstiner argues that poetry may have a singular capacity to return our attention to our environment before it's too late. Blending the pleasure of poetry with biography, history, geography, and current environmental concerns, he reveals the tension between a human-centered viewpoint and nature at large. This tension drives both environmental poetry and politics. There are environmental poetry anthologies and scholarly studies; this book gets the best of both without the limitations. Renowned and lesser-known poets come alive in clear, vigorous language enhanced by a unique collection of images: landscapes, portraits, manuscripts. Can Poetry Save the Earth? traces a long arc of awareness about our predicament on earth ranging from joyous to desperate. In forty brief and jargon-free chapters, John Felstiner finds fresh ways to activate familiar poems along with surprising ones, bringing them home to readers of every kind. Each chapter focuses on a poet who has written about the natural world, from the Psalmist to the modern poet. One by one it calls up voices from Blake, Whitman, Dickinson, Hardy, Hopkins, Yeats and Frost to Millay, Neruda, Kunitz, Levertov, Walcott and Gary Snyder. To round out this experience, full-color and black-and-white images, many of them discovered and published for the first time, show sources of environmental imagination. In the last decade, Felstiner has become a passionate advocate for the environment and for the poetry that celebrates it. Noted for his award-winning translations of Paul Célan's poetry, he was working on a project about creative resistance during the Holocaust about ten years ago, when he began to wonder how he could use poetry about nature to help tune people in to their environment. He thought that he could use "the pleasure of poetry to reach their consciousness, and their consciousness to reach their conscience.” Felstiner wrote the book over a nine-year period during most of which he was also teaching an Introduction to the Humanities course titled Literature into Life at Stanford. The need for a human, humanistic sense of our environmental crisis is getting more urgent week by week. Rachel Carson believed that poetry and science had kindred aims. E. O Wilson would say the same. Author Bio: John Felstiner, who teaches English at Stanford University, lives there and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He wrote Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu and Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale University Press), winner of the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism and finalist, National Book Critics Circle and MLA James Russell Lowell award. He has also received the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal, and PEN USA, Modern Language Association, and American Translators Association prizes.
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