The poetics of sustainability and the politics of what we’re
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.