The Environment and Human Migration: Rethinking the Politics of Poetry
University of Bamberg, Germany, November 25-26, 2016
The environmental crisis and intensifying migration movements are among the greatest challenges of our time, yet they are only beginning to be understood as interrelated. So far, this junction has mainly been studied in the social sciences, with a strong focus on the phenomenon of so-called climate refugees. There is, however, a substantial and remarkably diverse body of literary texts, including a large number of poems, that address the links between environmental and migratory issues in historically informed, conceptually complex, and aesthetically innovative ways. We invite scholars from across disciplines to explore such poems from different cultures and centuries, and to discuss their perspectives on the environment and migration in the larger frameworks of poetics, ethics, and politics.
The genre of poetry has sometimes been misunderstood as less politically relevant than prose, in spite of numerous counterexamples that include the black arts movement and 9/11 lyrics, postcolonial poetry and prison poetry. More specifically, poetry that talks about the nonhuman environment and human movement together—a tradition that goes back at least as far as the ancient epics—has often been read either as nature poetry or environmental poetry, or as poetry of migration, exile, and diaspora, overlooking the multifaceted links between these realms. But what happens if we reread old and new poems about floods and toxic landscapes, travel and urban sprawl, migrating animals and immigrant gardens with an eye to their combined interest in the environment and people’s geographical mobility? How can we make sense of their implicit and explicit political gestures? It is the premise of this conference that poems have long responded to pressing concerns in particularly immediate, concise, and evocative ways, and that in the face of the current convergence of environmental and migratory crises, poems offer alternative modes of talking about the complex relations between these dynamics. Not only does poetry often point beyond notions of chronological development and linear cause-and-effect patterns that tend to dominate many discussions about climate refugees, it also experiments with language and form in ways that may be particularly well suited to challenge the very logics of environmental and migratory discourses conceptually.
Conference papers may address but are not limited to the following questions:
How do poems that address the nonhuman world and human mobility together approach questions of environmental crisis and globalization?
How do poems with a keen interest in mobility as well as the environment rethink ideals of cosmopolitanism and world citizenship?
How do poems conceptualize the ways in which migratory movements affect the perception and re-imagination of people’s relationship to the nonhuman environment, and vice versa?
In what ways do poems interested in the natural world and migratory movements re-negotiate the ideals of place and sense of place that traditional ecocriticism and Western environmentalism at large tend to celebrate?
How have experiences of migration, displacement, diaspora and exile shaped the traditions of ‘nature poetry,’ ‘environmental poetry’ and ‘eco-poetry’—genres commonly associated with ideals of local attachment and modes such as the pastoral?
What are the environmental implications of poetry about ‘placelessness’?
How can the category of ‘non-places’ that is often used to conceptualize airports or highways be rethought through poetry that is invested in mobility as well as the natural environment?
How can poetry, or specific subgenres like the elegy, approach these issues in different ways than prose, or other forms of literary fiction and nonfiction, and what are the implications of such a mobile environmental poetics?