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

The Poetics of Ethics in the Anthropocene argues that transatlantic lyric poetry after 1850 can help us imagine ecological ethics in the Anthropocene. To make this argument, I foster an unlikely, yet vital, conversation between lyric poetics and posthumanism. As a theoretical orientation that critiques the idea that humans are bounded and coherent subjects governed by cognition, posthumanism is not often seen as compatible with lyric poetry, which has traditionally been read as a mode that is largely invested in humans. Ethical theories from a posthumanist perspective take this discord further, positioning lyric poems as irredeemably entangled with unethical systems of thought, such as anthropocentrism and hierarchies of beings. But, inspired by the ethical thought of theorist Michel Foucault, I claim that these fraught entanglements give us an opportunity to conceptualize ecological relations—and ethics more broadly—from within the complicities that our position as human beings on Earth inevitably beget. Because it is inextricable from racialized, gendered, and colonial violence, the Anthropocene challenges us not simply to renounce these and other destructive systems of thought, but to find a method for contending with them, as well as with their associated affects and emotions—even when those systems and feelings are contradictory, harmful, or misguided. Lyric, I suggest, rises to the challenge, reminding us that, as contemporary American poet Louise Glück writes, “human beings leave / signs of feeling / everywhere.” Poets include Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott, Lucille Clifton, Alice Oswald, and Tracy K. Smith. The project ultimately contends that ecological ethics requires what lyric uniquely affords: a way for humans in modernity to reside within the classical ethical question, How is one to live?

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.