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Imagining a Mobile Sense of Place

Towards an Ecopoetics of Mobility

Christine Gerhardt

Pages 421 - 443


This essay starts out from the observation that in American literature there is a growing body of environmentally significant poems that are invested both in place and geographical movement. Because their green resonances are not so much compromised as they are productively complicated and intensified by this double-orientation, such poems challenge all-too stable notions of place and place-connectedness as ecological ideals, from the perspectives of a genre that is uniquely suited to transcend place and time without necessarily relinquishing literature’s referential dimension. Combining some of the questions asked in recent ecocriticism with the concerns of mobility studies, this essay explores how American poetry engages with the shifting place of human and nonhuman creatures in an increasingly mobile world. Using Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and a spectrum of contemporary poets as examples, the essay argues that such poems, in spite of their notable differences, all engage similar strategies that enable them to envision and express a distinctly mobile sense of place. Most prominent among these interrelated poetic strategies are the evocation of topographies as substantially marked by nonhuman mobility, the focus on personas whose environmental insights are critically informed by their movement, and references to a more broadly mobile culture. This notion of a mobile sense of place lies at the heart of what I call an “ecopoetics of mobility”—an ecologically sensitive mode of poetic expression that conceives of natural phenomena and human-nonhuman interactions as both place-oriented and fundamentally mobile.


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