“Poetry's Evolving Ecology: Toward a Post-Symbol Landscape”

Rich Murphy


This meditative essay sees the shifting of Western poetics from Modernism to Postmodernism as evolutionary, and considers formative imagination’s function in that shifting to serve as a resource for contingency. According to this kind of thinking, poetics and ecology are influenced by globalization. The present meditation explores the shedding of cultural symbols in poetry baring the more contingent language of signifiers. It suggests that the resulting ecology of signifiers brings readers closer to nature because it removes assumed values of a given culture. The result is postmodern approaches to poetry. The essay outlines the relationship between the formative imagination and contingency. It remarks on how the nature of mediation and the formative imagination pivot on contingency, allowing poetics to adjust to perpetual change. It also recognizes that the signifier and aporia have become basic tools of the poetic imagination marking time until multiculturalism has established itself and perhaps a new world literature becomes one language. The meditation uses a poem by Jorie Graham as an example of poetry bridging religious symbolism to Darwinian thought. Charles Bernstein’s poem, stripped of cultural symbolism, is an example of a poem of contingency. Together, they illustrate the evolution of poetics and its most contemporary ecology. The meditation concludes with my own poetry, highlighting its changing ecology from cultural to multicultural symbolism and then to the threshold of contingency.


Post-symbol poetics; contingency; law of evolution; globalization; 20th-century poetry, U.S.; Modernism; Postmodernism

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549