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Wayne State University Press

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Janet Kauffman

Poetry, Ecology, Michigan

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: October 2017
ISBN: 9780814343814
Pages: 120 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 1 b&w sketch
Published: October 2017
ISBN: 9780814343821
Pages: 120 Size: EPUB
Illustrations: 1 b&w sketch

Janet Kauffman describes "eco-dementia" as a paradoxical condition of humanity—possessing a love of the living world while simultaneously causing and suffering from its destruction. Like other dementias, losses are profound. We lose touch, we forget. We don't recognize our own home—the habitat that sustains us. What has driven us to exploit more and more resources, even when risking self-annihilation? Eco-dementia is not nature poetry but an immersive language in the tangle of the living world that asks the question: can we survive this relationship?

The poems in Eco-dementia took shape in one decade of the author's life. In three sections, Kauffman reflects on insanities and devastations, from the personal to the global. From her father's Alzheimer's and the ravaged world of his mind to the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina, and toxins in Lake Erie, as well as the planetary-wide ecological catastrophe of climate change. Yet despite this devastation, it is possible to surround ourselves in light and air, to touch the tall grasses we love, to step into water and shade and feel an intense, momentary joy. Kauffman's poems show the bliss within the elemental richness of the natural world and also the violent distortions and grief at its devastation. Like learning a new language, we can see and hear words, sometimes understanding so clearly and other times not at all. Or as Kauffman's father puts it, "I know where you live, but I don't know who you are."

The language of these poems is the physical material of a damaged world. Readers of modern and experimental poetry will treasure this collection.

Janet Kauffman has published three collections of poetry and numerous books of fiction, including the award-winning book of short stories, Places in the World a Woman Could Walk, as well as the creative nonfiction collection, Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes (Wayne State University Press, 2008). She lives in Hudson, Michigan, where she restored wetlands on her farm, now protected as a natural area for ecological study.

Janet Kauffman not only knows the names for the things that grow in her world, she knows the names for the smallest parts of those things. She knows what they do and what nourishes them. She knows what destroys them. And she understands that the words and the language she revels in can be inadequate in the face of the craziness we live with. We look in these poems for the things this poet cherishes, the beauty of them down in the undercurrents, but she warns us, ‘I do believe time has taken us far too far for scattershot revelations or shortcuts through eco-dementia.’ We are left with no roadmaps, only a brilliant, uncertain but necessary prophecy.

– Keith Taylor, author of The Bird-while (Wayne State University Press, 2017)

The notion of dust to dust—or more accurately rivulet to river or muck to mud—finds original and shimmering expression in Janet Kauffman’s new collection of poems. She uses the tools of language and image just as she might take up a shovel and pick, or slide and beaker, to expose the mystery of our ruined earth and our place in it. As playful as they are serious, these poems suggest that all of us—animal, vegetable, and mineral—are caught up in the forces of desire and decay, just as we all suffer the damage that one inflicts upon the other. Even as they take to the open air of abstraction, these poems have dirt under their fingernails and wind in their hair.

– Carolyn Kuebler, editor of the New England Review

Kauffman is accessing a dark, ancient, and eternally relevant spirituality of nature here, and I’d recommend her book to any reader who has an attachment to place—or suffers from a feeling of alienation from a place—and to those interested in the recovery or invention of language that speaks to both the spiritual and the ecological.

– Jessica Mesman Griffith, author of Love and Salt and Strange Journey and founder of the award-winning blog, Sick Pilgrim

These poems are cast as a message from a future in which environmental devastation has advanced to an irreversible and frightening degree, a prescient warning and spirited depiction of yearning for lost beauty.

– Publishers Weekly