New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott

New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott

New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott

New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott

Synopsis

A simultaneously ecocritical and comparative study, New World Poetics plumbs the earthly depth and social breadth of the poetry of Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, and Derek Walcott, three of the Americas' most ambitious and epic-minded poets. In Whitman's call for a poetry of New World possibility, Neruda's invocation of an "American love," and Walcott's investment in the poetic ironies of an American epic, the adamic imagination of their poetry does not reinvent the mythical Garden that stands before history's beginnings but instead taps the foundational powers of language before a natural world deeply imbued with the traces of human time. Theirs is a postlapsarian Adam seeking a renewed sense of place in a biocentric and cross-cultural New World through language and nature's capacity for regeneration in the wake of human violence and suffering.

The book introduces the environmental history of the Americas and its relationship to the foundation of American and Latin American studies, explores its relevance to each poet's ambition to recuperate the New World's lost histories, and provides a transnational poetics of understanding literary influence and textual simultaneity in the Americas. The study provides much needed in-depth ecocritical readings of the major poems of the three poets, insisting on the need for thoughtful regard for the challenge to human imagination and culture posed by nature's regenerative powers; nuanced appreciation for the difficulty of balancing the demands of social justice within the context of deep time; and the symptomatic dangers as well as healing potential of human self-consciousness in light of global environmental degradation.

Excerpt

It is fair to wonder if terms such as “New World” and “adamic” haven’t long since lost their utility, but this study is an exercise in revisiting the assumptions that inform these suspicions. Instead of an argument for a new terminology, this is an effort to extract more value from old and familiar resources, a kind of literary recycling project. My environmental metaphors are not mere coincidence, of course, since my objective is to argue for the relevance of poetry in building sustainable visions of human beings in the world.

Derek Walcott’s essay from 1974, “The Muse of History,” provided me the initial illumination that led to this particular comparative formulation of a New World poetics. Critics have loosely associated the essay with postcolonialism more generally, but, guided by questions posed by ecocriticism in my reading, I couldn’t help noticing the centrality of nature in his . . .

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