Ecopoetics in the Age of the Anthropocene

By Haleigh Ehmsen ’16 

Befuddled by the headline? It’s the title of a new course at Saint Mary’s College. Eco-poetics is the study and creation of poetry with a strong ecological emphasis or message. Anthropocene is a geological age in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

The English course inspired communication studies major Meg Brownley ’18 to write and visually create Wooden Life, an eco-composition featured on the back cover of the fall/winter 2016 issue of Courier. Aaron Moe, assistant professor of English Literature, designed the course to introduce students — many non-English majors — to poetry as something they can write and turn to throughout their lives.

“In the classroom, we’re dwelling in poetry as a way of understanding our dwelling on earth,” he said.

“Professor Moe has taught us how to relate language to the ground we walk on through many works of poetry. I wanted to create something that connected words to nature, so I did that, literally,” commented Brownley. 

Wooden Life Meg Brownley

Her poem, which appears on the rings of a tree stump, is about birth, growth, struggle, and the circle of life. Brownley says, “This class has opened my eyes to the environment around me and how I interact with it.”

“We’re using language to gather and to let go,” said Moe. “We’re also learning that it doesn’t have to happen on the printed page.” A website is a key part of the class and each student must draft posts for the site.

The class also experienced nature off the written and web page when they traveled to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Medaryville, Indiana to observe the Sandhill Crane Migration

Moe hopes his course helps students to develop a sense of being at home on this planet through poetry and experience of nature.