The American Poetry Review


Ecopoetry not in the sense of poetry decorated somehow with landscape—bird or snake, river or mountain—but in the radical sense of poetry that weaves consciousness and landscape together, returning the human to “nature” and the “wild,” from which we are excluded by cultural definition and assumption. And so, a poetry capable of transforming how one experiences oneself in the world on a day-to-day basis. This could be a definition of classical Chinese poetry; and remarkably, it is no less a definition for the poetic project of the twentieth-century American avant-garde. The connection is not gratuitous: classical Chinese poetry embodies the philosophical insights of Taoism and Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, and those same insights also drive the conceptual revolution of our avant-garde tradition. Even if they are 2500 years old, those insights seem radically modern, and they were used by the avant-garde to articulate an alternative to the discredited philosophical framework of the Judeo-Christian West

is the central concept in Taoism, first formulated in Lao Tzu’s (6th c. B.C.E.), a poetic text that is the seminal work in Chinese spiritual philosophy. means most literally , as in a road or pathway, but Lao Tzu uses it to describe the empirical Cosmos as a single living tissue that is inexplicably generative—and so, female in its very nature. As such, it is an ongoing cosmological process, an ontological path by which things come into existence, evolve through their lives, and then go out of existence, only to be transformed and reemerge in a new form. For China’s artist-intellectuals, the goal was to dwell as an integral part of Tao’s generative cosmological process: consciousness woven into the living Cosmos. This involved practices of philosophical and artistic self-cultivation: living as recluses in mountain landscapes, painting mountain landscapes, inscribing calligraphy with the same selfless spontaneity that the Cosmos (Tao) exhibits

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