Matthew Griffiths
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Jorie Graham’s Sea Change
The poetics of sustainability and the politics of what we’re sustaining

Outlining tensions that scholars and critics have discerned in the concept of sustainability, this chapter proposes that Jorie Graham’s 2008 poetry collection Sea Change employs a poetics that engages formally as well as thematically with the term’s complexities. Her work is shown to challenge the model of ‘sustainable poetry’ advanced by Leonard M. Scigaj, and the reflexivity of her technique is seen to enact the difficulties and contradictions of sustaining the cultural metanarrative of sustainability. Attention is paid to the way Sea Change’s dialogue with the literary tradition attempts to sustain our culture – as represented by T. S. Eliot and Shakespeare – and to how it reveals that such an endeavour always changes what it seeks to pass on. The chapter concludes by suggesting that Graham’s sequence incorporates such contingency into an aesthetics akin to music rather than narrative, sustaining a human habit for art even under the extremes of environmental change endured in the twenty-first century.

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Literature and sustainability

Concept, text and culture


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