Letter from the Editor

     In the ignominious and dispiriting year of American public life that was 2016, which culminated in the election of a president so egregiously unqualified for the office in both temperament and experience, a man whose only appreciation for art appears to be large portraits of himself, whose only sense of faith rests in a cynical appeal to white evangelicals, whose only regard for nature is that his golf courses go there, two events highlighted our collective relationship with land. One was the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and the other was the sustained nonviolent resistance of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota - which you can read more about in this issue’s From the Fold, a riveting firsthand account of Emilie Bouvier’s time at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock. 
     These events provide us with two distinct ways of imagining and interpreting common life, that is, life shared with others on the basis of geographic proximity, national identity, and other binding qualities. The Malheur side might be distilled to the message: you get yours, I’ll get mine. Many believe such an attitude rhymes with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The toxic irony of the violent seizure, led by Ammon Bundy, of government lands, cloaked in the logic that they were restoring ownership of said lands ‘to the people,’ is that federally protected and administered lands, by their very nature, belong to every American citizen, in a shared trust.  The Standing Rock side, meanwhile, revealed a communitarian spirit, which holds that what is good for another is good for all, and conversely what is harmful to another is harmful to all. Spoiled ecosystems and endangered species are not local problems, but concerns that deserve general attention and general support. 
     Poetry, along with the other arts, has the ability and responsibility to bring our attention to images, moments, and movements that remind us of our creatureliness. However creative the poet, she is part of something more vast and more mysterious than her best poem. The poems in this issue stand, I think, on the side of Standing Rock. They recognize that the individual voice of the poet is powerful precisely because it belongs not merely to the poet, but to Poetry. And poetry belongs to the people, of whom Shao Wei sings ‘A million residents needed to be relocated’ in her poem “Songs of Displacement.” Courtney Cook charts a different kind of displacement in her poems which ask us to look at lynchings that took place in the Jim Crow south. The more recent lynchings of Philando Castile and Eric Garner, to name just two of too many, lend her poems an unfortunate timeliness. By inhabiting the points of view of children witnessing these horrific acts she compels us to wonder what today’s children make of systemic injustice for women, people of color, and Mother Earth. ‘When you break the world,’ Richard Jackson laments in his poem “Micah’s Prophecy,” ‘it doesn’t just get fixed.’ This may come as particularly difficult news for Trump supporters who believe prayer can stand in for disastrous policy.
     Adrienne Rich once refused a National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton, stating “Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.” If she thought that president’s politics were cynical and degrading, it is difficult to imagine what words she might have for the current administration. In times of confusion and despair, literature and art can be both solace and spur. 
     I recently finished reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, a brilliant and poignant elegy for our current ecological and human disarray. She writes, “People do not live very long or look very hard; we are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about, climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did, we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our threescore and ten and tie our knots in lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history. History, and life, too.” I take Macdonald’s point, and I also hope that what you’ll find in this issue of The EcoTheo Review is more than illusory solace. Our souls need the replenishing beauty of images, whether that beauty is stark and disquieting such as Giada Crispiel portrays in “Back Into Nature, ‘Hurricane Sandy,’” or whimsical, magnificent, as in Ivan Ng’s digital prints. Our minds long for words to quicken and astonish us, as Gail Tyson’s do in her evocative meditation, “Like Water Lapping Shore” and Christopher Rutenber’s do in his lyrical dystopian story, “The Replicas.” May the following pages lead you to a deeper relationship with your community, your place, and your Creator.
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