“How many ladders to gather an orchard?” asks Brigit Pegeen Kelly in “The Leaving.” Beyond nature poetry, beyond the arcadian romances, this course drives the definition of the poetic pastoral into contemporary fields, including those of ecopoetics and apocalypse narratives, while honoring the classical form’s tradition and its mortification by modernity. The course will begin with selections of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics in order to establish a baseline understanding of the form before we leap into excerpts from contemporary texts like Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s The Orchard, Alice Oswald’s Dart, and Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas, with concentrated meditations on individual poems by poets Sumita Chakraborty, Vievee Francis, Brenda Hillman, Sara Eliza Johnson, Dana Levin, Airea D. Matthews, Susan Stewart, and others. With ideas from Joyelle McSweeney’s craft text The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, and Occults as a lodestar, we will navigate the shift between the idealized pastoral and the necropastoral’s badlands, paying particular attention to the modernist poetry arising out of World War I, including David Jones’s In Parenthesis. Alongside our reading investigations, we will perform generative acts of imitation within the form, stealing wing-beats from the poets who’ve flown before us. We will ask ourselves if the pastoral has any place among our strip-mined and deforested landscapes, and if the form now has a particular obligations to address contemporary issues. In doing so, we will build our ladders to gather the fruit of the world, eating it until the juice runs down our chins and arms.
Emilia Phillips (she/her/hers) is the author of three poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, most recently Empty Clip (2018), and four chapbooks, including Hemlock (Diode Editions, 2019). Winner of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, Phillips’s poems, lyric memoirs, and poetry reviews appear widely in literary publications including Agni, American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The New York Times, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. She’s an assistant professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She’s now at work on Wound Revisions: Memoirs and a poetry collection.