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The Bioregional Imagination

Literature, Ecology, and Place

Tom Lynch

Publication Year: 2012

Bioregionalism is an innovative way of thinking about place and planet from an ecological perspective. Although bioregional ideas occur regularly in ecocritical writing, until now no systematic effort has been made to outline the principles of bioregional literary criticism and to use it as a way to read, write, understand, and teach literature.

The twenty-four original essays here are written by an outstanding selection of international scholars. The range of bioregions covered is global and includes such diverse places as British Columbia’s Meldrum Creek and Italy’s Po River Valley, the Arctic and the Outback. There are even forays into cyberspace and outer space. In their comprehensive introduction, the editors map the terrain of the bioregional movement, including its history and potential to inspire and invigorate place-based and environmental literary criticism.

Responding to bioregional tenets, this volume is divided into four sections. The essays in the “Reinhabiting” section narrate experiments in living-in-place and restoring damaged environments. The “Rereading” essays practice bioregional literary criticism, both by examining texts with strong ties to bioregional paradigms and by opening other, less-obvious texts to bioregional analysis. In “Reimagining,” the essays push bioregionalism to evolve—by expanding its corpus of texts, coupling its perspectives with other approaches, or challenging its core constructs. Essays in the “Renewal” section address bioregional pedagogy, beginning with local habitat studies and concluding with musings about the Internet.

In response to the environmental crisis, we must reimagine our relationship to the places we inhabit. This volume shows how literature and literary studies are fundamental tools to such a reimagining.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The seeds for this essay collection on literature, ecology, and place germinated in cyberspace. Cheryll, who wanted to teach a class on bioregional literature and criticism, posted a query to the e- mail list of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (asle). Tom then e- mailed Cheryll, suggesting that we edit an anthology on the subject, whereupon we invited Karla to join the team. Our first step was to test the waters by ...

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pp. 1-30

On a September evening in eastern Nebraska, several hundred community residents gather at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, a restored tallgrass prairie, for a “Twilight on the Tallgrass” celebration. As people wander the trails, they encounter stations where they learn about native insects, birds, wildflowers, and medicinal plants. At one station, local writers read from their prairie- inspired work. Nearby, a Winnebago ...

PART ONE: Reinhabiting

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Big Picture, Local Place: A Conversation with David Robertson and Robert L. Thayer Jr.

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pp. 33-46

The buildings of the UC Davis campus assert their verticality amid the flat, agricultural fields of California’s Central Valley. Shrouded in bone- chilling, thick gray Tule fog for much of the winter, Davis is then baked by kilnlike heat in summer. With the sublime Sierra Nevada mountains ninety minutes to the east and the hip San Francisco Bay Area ninety minutes to the west, Davis appears as a podunk exit off ...

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Still under the Influence: The Bioregional Origins of the Hub City Writers Project

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pp. 47-58

In the late 1970s, I spent a year on the West Coast, and it was as close as I ever got to counterculture. During college, from 1973 until 1977, I stayed pretty close to the middle of the cultural road—short hair and plenty of beer but no pot or LSD. If the doors of my perception were cleansed, it was by poetry....

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Representing Chicago Wilderness

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pp. 59-71

In defining bioregionalism, Michael Vincent McGinnis writes, “Bioregionalists stress the importance of reinhabiting one’s place and earthly home. A bioregion represents the intersection of vernacular culture, place- based behavior, and community” (3). Where do cities fit into this vision? How about the people who have come to the city through diaspora, migration, or economic opportunity? How are they to embrace vernacular culture or place- based behavior?...

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“To Become Beavers of Sorts”: Eric Collier’s Memoir of Creative Ecology at Meldrum Creek

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pp. 72-85

In 1931, in the Chilcotin region of the British Columbia Interior, a watershed was dying. Meldrum Creek, a narrow, weedy waterway, led through “stagnant and smelly” meadows and past the “crumbling façade” of abandoned beaver dams (Collier 5). Around the “sick” watershed were “powder- dry grasses,” and the forests and fields were unusually quiet of the call of waterbirds (5). As described by Eric Collier, author of the memoir Three against the Wilderness, the Meldrum Creek watershed was drying and dying, and the birds ...

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The Poetics of Water: Currents of Reclamation in the Columbia River Basin

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pp. 86-99

Since 1902, western watersheds in the United States have been managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, an extension of the U.S. Department of Interior that was established to ensure the equitable distribution of water for purposes of settlement, irrigation, and hydroelectric production in seventeen arid and semiarid states. During the 1930s, federal engineers identified the Columbia River Basin as a latent powerhouse and planned to ...

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Restoring the Imagination of Place: Narrative Reinhabitation and the Po Valley

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pp. 100-117

When you travel along the countryside of the Po Valley, it is hard not to feel like a stranger.” The speaker of these lines is a native writer, Gianni Celati, who was born in Sondrio, Lombardy, and grew up in Ferrara, near the river’s mouth. In such a rich and culturally specific bioregion, one in which territorial stances based on place identity led an autonomist party in the government coalition called the Northern ...

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“This Is What Matters”: Reinhabitory Discourse and the “Poetics of Responsibility” in the Work

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pp. 118-132

Just as bioregions are more than purely physiographical entities, reinhabitation, one of bioregionalism’s core concepts, has always been about more than planting trees and building sustainable homes from recycled materials in degraded and abandoned places. Acknowledging the centrality of cultural transformation to reinhabitory projects of every kind, founding bioregionalists Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann ...

PART TWO: Rereading

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Mapping Placelore: Tim Robinson’s Ambulation and Articulation of Connemara as Bioregion

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pp. 135-149

The stories of Ireland’s Connemara bogland bear a formidable and sometimes inchoate legacy for how humans dwell in place. Tim Robinson’s ambition reveals an authentic desire to honor the complexities of these histories, finding their depth in both the human and nonhuman layers of a place that is too often held hostage to narratives of colonial conquest and rebellion. Born in Yorkshire, England, trained at ...

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The Challenge of Writing Bioregionally: Performing the Bow River in Jon Whyte’s Minisniwapta: Voices of the River

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pp. 150-163

With these words, Jon Whyte introduces a poem he never completed, but one that raises intriguing questions about what it might mean to write from a bioregional perspective, especially for a poet like Whyte, for whom place meant literally everything. The following discussion first explores those aspects of Whyte’s idea of place that make him a candidate for the title “bioregional poet” and then examines the...

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Figures of Life: Beverley Farmer’s The Seal Woman as an Australian Bioregional Novel

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pp. 164-180

The Otway Plain bioregion, in the southwest of the state of Victoria, Australia, is bordered on one side by the Otway ranges and on another by the western shore of the vast Port Phillip Bay, with the town of Queenscliff sitting on its furthest point.1 On one side of this outpost town is Bass Strait, a major shipping lane that separates the mainland from Tasmania (Antarctica is the next landmass to the south); on the other ...

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Melancholy Botany: Charlotte Smith’s Bioregional Poetic Imaginary

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pp. 181-199

Bioregional literary criticism is demonstrably productive for readings of modern and contemporary authors, but can it be fruitfully applied to authors from earlier periods? My essay explores the poetry of a major pre-Romantic author, Charlotte Turner Smith, whose collection of Elegiac Sonnets (first published in 1784 and revised in multiple editions to 1800) revived the sonnet form for the first generation of English...

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The Nature of Region: Russell Banks, New England, and New York

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pp. 200-211

The line between the idea of cultural region, generally delineated according to human criteria, and ecological region and bioregion, defined by natural factors, would seem to be fairly sharp and clear. Sometimes, though, that line becomes blurred in ways that force closer examination of these spatial concepts and the ways that they relate to each other. For example, northern New England can be seen as a distinct literary subregion distinguished by the differences that writers more ...

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Critical Utopianism and Bioregional Ecocriticism

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pp. 212-225

In his important study of bioregional literary criticism, David Robertson discusses some of the key components of bioregionalism: a delineation of place in terms of a bioregion, which reflects properties of the natural world rather than human artifice; a holistic integration of the individual person with that bioregion; and the interconnectedness of physical world, human psychology, and spirituality. Bioregional literary criticism, ...

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Critical Bioregionalist Method in Dune: A Position Paper

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pp. 226-242

A disclosure: in proposing “critical bioregionalism,” I assume that diverse bioregions are functionally homogenous. In other words, claims about the cultural life of bioregion X must be significant and meaningful to those who live in bioregion Y. As Pavel Cenkl observes in his essay in this collection, productive labor is one such function common to all bioregions; he argues that the qualities of that labor make the North ...

PART THREE: Reimagining

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“Los campos extraños de esta ciudad” / “The strange fields of this city”: Urban Bioregionalist Identity and Environmental Justice in Lorna Dee Cervantes’s “Freeway 280”

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pp. 245-262

Bioregional practice begins with understanding place and, correspondingly, self. Most bioregionalists emphasize that cultivating sustainable dwelling requires not simply acquiring technical knowledge about the natural possibilities and limitations of one’s geologic, biotic, or climatic region but also reconnecting to place through personal experience and rediscovering, in the words of Gary Snyder, “the ‘where’ of our ‘who ...

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Bioregionalism, Postcolonial Literatures, and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road

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pp. 263-277

The primary goal of this book is to consider what it means to read a text bioregionally. As we ask ourselves this question, it is important to also ask what kind of bioregional literary criticism particular texts can off er. How does the bioregional imagination of one writer differ from the next? How does the place- based aesthetic of one bioregion diff er from the next? In this paper I’m particularly interested in considering ...

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Seasons and Nomads: Reflections on Bioregionalism in Australia

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pp. 278-294

As the world moves beyond nationalism into larger global corporate communities, one response has been to retreat to proximity and, in Kirkpatrick Sale’s terms, to “dwell in place.” The “imagined community” (Anderson) of the bioregion is human sized: it is a homeland not a nation. The notion of the “bioregional imagination” as explored throughout this book is created by place- conscious literature, art, natural- history writing...

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Reading Climate Change and Work in the Circumpolar North

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pp. 295-311

My students and I typically begin the first day of our “Literature and Film of the North” class by considering the question, “What is North?” We start by looking at a wide range of documents that includes the 550 CE Voyage of Saint Brendan, which recounts the episodic narrative of Brendan’s crossing of the North Atlantic in an ox hide boat; passages from Homer and Dante; and for a visual cornerstone, Gerhard ...

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Douglas Livingstone’s Poetry and the (Im)possibility of the Bioregion

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pp. 312-328

In his wonderful book The Star Thrower, Loren Eiseley relates how, walking along a beach one evening, he encountered a man diligently picking up stranded starfish and hurling them back into deeper sea. The “star thrower” admitted that this was quixotic but simply could not leave the fish to die. I can’t remember if he—or Eiseley—considered the lives lost as a result of his philanthropy: the microbiota invisibly embedded ...

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“Fully motile and AWAITING FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS”: Thinking the Feral into Bioregionalism

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pp. 329-344

If bioregionalism is viewed narrowly, with a bioregion seen as a distinct natural region or a local place touted for its specialities, the feral may function as an unwelcome or invasive intrusion. In this narrow view, the energy of the local is focused on expelling, demonizing, marginalizing, and even destroying the feral. Generally, the feral can be understood as a state that lies somewhere between domesticated and wild. Ferality is implicitly ...

PART FOUR: Renewal

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Out of the Field Guide: Teaching Habitat Studies

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pp. 347-364

I like epigraphs: they focus what follows and simultaneously upset it.1 When you return to them minutes or months later, they seem to question the very propositions you thought were so stable. I begin with Sue Wheeler—you will recognize the poem from the course description on the department website—because it comes from a collection titled simply Habitat. And because while honoring the field guide(s) you will...

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Switching on Light Bulbs and Blowing Up Mountains: Ecoliteracy and Energy Consumption in General Education English Courses

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pp. 365-376

I’m a native Kentuckian teaching Kentuckians, a strange bird in higher education where so many teachers find employment far from their roots. Having a background similar to many of my students—religious, provincial, basketball obsessed—I’m uniquely situated to develop courses in which students can better understand their native state....

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Teaching Bioregional Perception—at a Distance

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pp. 377-390

At 1,919 feet it’s not much of a mountain, even by northern Taconic standards, but still people climb through the hickory, beech, and maple to take in the view from Haystack Mountain: Adirondacks to the west, Green Mountains to the east, and the basin of Lake Champlain opening to the north. There’s nothing visible to suggest where a mapmaker’s line separates Vermont from New York, or Rutland County from Bennington ...

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Where You at 20.0

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pp. 391-403

We are compelled to educate a new generation of environmental leaders. This means we must also understand what our students care about, their views and how they form them. We also recognize that these views and values may not be our own. Mitch was born in 1950; Kate was born in 1974. Our students were born after 1990. Thus, we represent three distinct generations of place- based experience. In this essay, we ...

A Bioregional Booklist

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pp. 404-410


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pp. 411-418


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pp. 419-438

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343679
E-ISBN-10: 0820343676
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820341712
Print-ISBN-10: 0820341711

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 24 maps, 9 figures
Publication Year: 2012