The Zen of Ecopoetics

The Zen of Ecopoetics

Explore how Zen Buddhism inspired modernist American Ecopoetics.

From the early to mid-twentieth century, the United States saw an increasing interest in East Asian religions such as Zen Buddhism. Along with modern variants of bohemianism and drug experimentation, Zen fuelled the counterculture movement and its striving for more fluid and open forms of consciousness. This period also marked a renewed concern with our relationships with non-human environments. 

In this course, we’ll discuss poets who, through the influence of Zen Buddhism, reshaped their poetic experimentation and reflected on the relationship between poetics and the environment. We’ll begin by tracing the history and main changes in the transmission of Zen Buddhism from the East to the West as well as examining the main principles of Zen in a comprehensive and accessible way. Next, we’ll briefly touch on contemporary definitions of ecopoetics and study examples of the influence of Zen Buddhism to modernist American experimentalism. We’ll read early- and mid-twentieth-century American poets such as William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gary Snyder, E. E. Cummings, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman, Diane di Prima, and Jane Hirshfield. 

By reflecting on the influence of Zen on modernist American poetry, we should also ask ourselves: How can Zen Buddhism contribute to a poetic practice that is attuned to the climate crisis? The aim is to expand our views on modernist experimentation to include the strong presence of Zen Buddhism. We also aim at reflecting on the valuable contribution of Zen Buddhism in enabling new forms of ecological awareness for contemporary poetic practice. 

An ‘Interactive Course’ with 5 sessions over 10 weeks, starting 17 May 2022. Feedback on Interactive Courses is delivered via Instant Messenger ‘Live Chats’, running 7–9 pm (GMT) on fortnightly Tuesdays for this course; first Live Chat: 31 May.

To apply for a concessionary rate, please send relevant documentation showing your eligibility for one of our concessions to [email protected] Conditions of eligibility are detailed here. If you have any questions or wish to be added to the waiting list of a sold-out course, please email [email protected] 

For more information visit our Online Courses page. 

Image credit: Samuel Austin

About Enaiê Mairê Azambuja View Profile

Enaiê Mairê Azambuja holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Surrey where she developed a project about the influence of Zen Buddhism on modernist American Ecopoetics. She has published poems in the UK (Marble Poetry, issues 7 and 8), Sweden (Two Thirds North, 2015-2018), and Brazil (Mallarmargens, 2020; Ruído Manifesto, 2020). 

‘Coming to the Poetry School has changed my creative life by getting me to write poetry for the first time since I was a teenager, and giving me confidence in my writing abilities.’

- Summer 2021 Survey

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