03 June 2009

Coming to PG in August: DE COMP

by Stephen Collis & Jordan Scott

DE COMP is a book to be collaboratively written by Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott. It will include a variety of texts, including lyric poetry and prose narratives, that explore issues of locality, ecology, and the continuing impact of human beings on the environment. The project will unfold in two main stages. First, in the Summer of 2009, the authors will travel to five distinct BC ecosystems and communities: the coastal rainforest (on Vancouver Island’s west coast), the Fraser River Delta/Vancouver, the Carribou/Chilcotin, the Rocky Mountains, and the North. In each ecosystem a copy of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species will be placed in an outdoor location, to be left there for one year. Poetry and prose narratives about the region and the authors’ practice will be composed, and readings will be given in each area (ideally, Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, Nelson, and Prince George). The authors will then return to the same sites one year later (Summer 2010), collect the books left exposed in the local ecosystems, compose new work (in part based upon what has happened, physically, to the exposed texts), and once again give readings based on the project. DE COMP itself will then be assembled using the poetry and prose narratives composed on the two trips, and written in response to Darwin’s book and the physical record of what has happened to the books left exposed around the province.

We have chosen to use Darwin’s Origin for several reasons. The book remains one of the most influential interventions in our understanding of the “natural” world and our place in it. Conveniently, 2009 also happens to be the 150th anniversary of its publication. At the core of Origin is the issue of “variation”: how does variation (evolutionary difference) between and within species occur? In our project we will submit Darwin’s book itself to the variations of climate and ecosystem within British Columbia. We will thus bring the “variations upon a theme” typical of the arts into dialogue with the “variations” tracked by biologists and naturalists in the physical environment.

Our intention is thus to use the book, quite literally, as a “touchstone” for writing poetry on ecological issues. What is often now referred to as “ecopoetry” is based on the notion “that poetry derives from the living earth as surely as our human bodies and minds do” and “that poetry itself can manifest the intricate, adaptive, and evolving balance of an ecosystem” (Ecopoetry ix). The “decomposition” of Darwin’s text is an opportunity to reflect poetically upon the ecological degradation of our contemporary environments. “Decomposition” becomes a poetics and writing strategy—a mode of making new texts out of the decomposing bodies of other texts. We decompose, in order to compose our return to the material word and world. Our taking Darwin’s book into “nature” is a way of reversing the usual flow of ecopoetry, in which “nature” is brought into text via human reflection and description. By doing so we hope to produce work which moves beyond the typical dualisms that keep the processes of the human degradation of the environment going.


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