Visiting Assistant Professor in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, Emory University

Ph.D. in English with a certificate in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, GA  (2018)
B.A. in English and Creative Writing, Wellesley College (2008)

Book project: The Poetics of Ethics in the Anthropocene

This book project argues that transatlantic lyric poetry after 1850 can help us imagine ethics in the Anthropocene. The project stems from my dissertation, which focused on ecological ethics and took inspiration from the discord between ecology studies and twentieth-century lyric poetry. Ecology studies has tended to critique the idea that humans are bounded and coherent subjects governed by cognition; with a few exceptions, it has therefore not always found easy alliance with lyric poetry, which has traditionally been read as a mode that is preoccupied with the "I" and is largely invested in humans. Inspired by the ethical thought of theorist Michel Foucault, however, I argued that due to such fraught epistemological entanglements, lyric provides us with an opportunity to conceptualize ecological relations from within the complicities that our position as human beings on Earth inevitably beget. I find this particularly crucial for our contemporary life in what has come to be called the "Anthropocene," a concept and an epoch that is inextricable from racialized, gendered, and colonial violence. To live in the Anthropocene is to live within the structures of such violence; therefore, the concept challenges us not simply to renounce destructive systems of thought, but to find a method for contending with them, as well as with their associated affects and emotions. Lyric, I suggest, rises to that challenge. In The Poetics of Ethics in the Anthropocene, I draw upon the same provocation in order to look more broadly at the contemporary moment's most pressing ethical problems, using the term "Anthropocene" to refer not solely to our ecological challenges, but also the racial and gendered ones that are imbricated in the epoch. Broken into three sections—"Anthropocene Racism," "Anthropocene Sex," and "Anthropocene Ecology"—I show how lyric poetry of the long twentieth century, reaching into contemporary poetry, offers a way for humans in modernity to reside within the classical ethical question: How is one to live? The project's poets are Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, Jean Toomer, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Alice Oswald, Tracy K. Smith, Craig Santos Perez, and Mai Der Vang. 

Academic Peer-Reviewed Articles

“Anthropocene Ethics and its Lapses: Lyric Eros and the Example of Sylvia Plath’s Bees.” Under review. 

Much recent work in ecology studies draws upon the erotic as a fruitful way to rethink interspecies relations. As thinkers such as Cynthia Willett argue, eros invites us to decenter the human subject and to imagine differently the meetings between humans, nonhumans, and things that comprise our world. This theoretical discourse often fleetingly references poetry or “the poetic,” but interspecies erotic scenes in actual poems are rarely considered. To explore lyric eros, this essay takes as its primary case study Sylvia Plath’s sequence of bee poems in Ariel, which taps into the trope of bee-keeping that is as old as Virgil in lyric history. In this sequence, scenes of interspecies encounters are suffused with multidirectional and multi-agential yearning and desire. Yet, within these poems, that same eros is intertwined with a rhetoric of racial discrimination. To read Plath’s bee poems for an ethics of eros, therefore, is also to read their racism. This essay contends that Plath’s poems offer an opportunity to conceptualize an interspecies ethics insofar as they do not present an infallible, or even a good, model of relationality; rather, they unspool a discursive system that prompts readers to reside within the dangers that even ethics can yield, forcing us to confront our cruelties. Intervening in debates regarding the ethics of poetry and engaging the relationship between race and ecology, this essay argues that such a confrontation is particularly needed in the context of current discussions regarding the anthropocene, the most recent theorization of which links its origins to the genocides perpetrated by Western nations beginning in 1492.

 “Of New Calligraphy: Seamus Heaney, Planetarity, and Lyric’s Uncanny Space-Walk.” Cultural Critique (forthcoming 2019). 

In the middle of the twentieth century, the Western cultural imaginary transitioned between two formulations of the uncanny. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak describes this shift as one “from vagina to planet”: due to the newfound view of Earth from space in the late 1960s, Freud’s conceptualization of the body of the cisgender, childbearing woman as an uncanny figure shifts to a pervasive sense that the uncanny signifier par excellence is in fact the planet Earth itself. This essay interrogates this shift and finds its most fruitful revision takes place in poetics. First, it reads the cultural moment in which both uncannies have vibrant and interdependent lives in print and media culture. To explore the critical potential of their interdependence, this paper then turns to the work of Seamus Heaney and finds that his poetry engages both figurations from the beginning to the end of his career. In his bog poems in particular—composed during a time that dovetails with the uncannies’ cultural lives while also inflected with his interest in bogs as ecological phenomena—Heaney collapses the distance between the uncannies, enmeshing them to explore poetry’s potential for creating uncanny estrangement, as well as the consequences of such estrangement on ideas of kinship. In turn, in his post-midcentury work, Heaney transforms both Freud’s argument that the uncanny is an aesthetic concern and Spivak’s claim that it is a hermeneutic one into a suggestion that it is a chief concern of poetry. Noticing that in his later work, Heaney incorporates the apostrophic “O” into his sense of the uncanny, the author suggests that Heaney’s work positions lyric as the ultimate uncanny space. His work thus calls upon us to re-envision the nature of lyric engagement with materiality and embodiment.

The image behind the overlay: Non je ne regrette rien by Wangechi Mutu. See it in full, and full color, here.