Poetics of Fire: Enflaming Change, Sparking Action
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The words which conclude James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time—“God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water, the fire next time”—now resonate as much with the current landscape of racial (in)justice as with the literal landscape in which rising sea levels and massive wildfires are quotidian concerns. 

This panel offers poetics of fire as an invitation to consider the interlocking nature of racial and environmental harm. Total suppression has, historically, been the US Forest Service’s approach to fire; yet as Indigenous communities, historians, scientists, and environmentalists all emphasize, this policy is not only ecologically flawed but actively harmful. What if, they urge us, we approach fire not as a destructive force, but as a generative one, renewing the livability of the planet? What if we consider fire as generative, creative, as a necessity?

 If we understand fire suppression as a metaphor for the historical and ongoing practices of white supremacy, then a poetics of fire might call us to burn that which perpetuates injustice, and to imagine planetary care outside of fortress conservation, environmental racism, and settler colonial extraction. To consider a poetics of fire is to insist on our obligation to act, and act now.

In this panel, we position post-60s poetry against declawed discourses of sustainability and green capitalism. For us, this archive of poetry functions as an “insurgent grammar” (Edwards 2021, 98), en-flaming audiences across multiple venues: at protests, performances, or in private; printed for presses small and large, or copied by hand. 
Although we encourage proposals that explore poetics in an extended sense, we’re especially interested in poetry itself as a medium for illuminating the relationship between environment and race, between physical and figurative landscapes, and between literary forms and forms of abolition, redress, and justice. From June Jordan to Amiri Baraka to Audre Lorde to Daniel Borzutzky to Layli Long Soldier to Julian Talamantez Brolaski to Natalie Diaz, poets of the last 60 years have engaged place, land, environment, and yes, fire, as a vital element of their literary work and activism, which shape our physical and emotional landscapes.  As we study these works, this panel asks us to consider how a poetics of fire might en-flame us to create a more just future by burning down that which harms— and cultivating that which nourishes.

Some possible topics include:

  • Black literary feminism
  • Land-back poetics
  • The body as archive/index of settler colonial violence and ableism 
  • Poetic versions of urgent care
  • Queer and two-spirit ecopoetics
  • Futuristic/speculative approaches to environmental thought and care
Current contributors: 
Sarah Winstein-Hibbs
Austyn James
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