Roots of Eco-poetry

The following excerpt is from Han Shan’s Transparent Eyeball: The Asian Roots of American Eco-poetry, an introduction by Tony Barnstone to Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges.


Like people, ideas travel. And they emigrate. And they take root. And they change. And some part of them remains connected to their homeland.

“But what does all of this have to do with ecopoetry?” you could ask.

I would assert that modern and contemporary American ecopoetry sprouts directly from the American Transcendentalist tradition of Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. These authors were deeply concerned with questions of how the poetic life is connected to the natural life; how to live with what today we would call a small carbon footprint, but which Thoreau called “economy”; and how to connect spiritually to nature despite living in a commercial society. Yet, the Transcendentalists’ ecological ideas themselves sprout from a double root: Asian as well as Western literature and philosophy.

Tony Barnstone

Contemporary Chinese eco-poetry emerges from the same Asian sources— Daoist and Buddhist ideas of self and nature—but often adds a note of parody, sadness, and irony that reflects how those ideas can be lost in the contemporary urbanized, polluted, and industrial human environment.

This volume of Chinese and American eco-poetries, Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges, is an experiment to see what happens when you put into one volume two contemporary groups of eco-poets—Chinese and American—whose work is sustained by roots that are historically and intellectually intertwined. With some luck, these poets’ local eco-poetic geographies might suggest a global vision.