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From Planar Perspectives to a Planetary Poetics

Aeromobility, Technology, and the Environmental Imaginary in Contemporary American Poetry

Judith Rauscher


Pages 445 - 467

open-access



Late modernity is often associated with the uneven pressures of globalization, increasing technologization, and an intensification of migratory, economic, and cultural flows that alienate the subject, frequently figured as a traveler, from the natural world. Contemporary American poetry, in particular by ethnic poets invested in histories of displacement, explores these tensions by evoking travel by plane. Going beyond common themes in poems of flight, these texts interrogate the desire for place-attachment in a highly mobile world, and the peculiar perspectives on the natural environment open to the air traveler. In this essay I analyze selected poems about aeromobility from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, arguing that they are not only plane poems but also ‘planetary poems.’ Drawing from recent critical discourses on ‘the planetary,’ I demonstrate how these texts combine considerations of racial, ethnic, and cultural difference with ecological sensibilities and thus evoke complex glocal environmental imaginaries. As a reading of Ed Roberson’s collection ‘To See the Earth Before the End of the World’ (2010) shows, recent American poems of flight are centrally concerned not only with questions of mobility, but also with the role of technology in our current age of global conflict and environmental change. Contemporary poetry of aeromobility thus makes possible a (techno-)critical reexamination of traditional, planar perspectives on nonhuman environments and allows for an exploration of the revisionary potential of an eco-ethical, anti-imperialist planetary poetics.

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