Poetry Bridging Continents IV: A New England College Pastoral Poetry Symposium

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Professor Maura MacNeil is working on creating a poetry symposium at New England College in fall 2019. The proposed symposium would welcome poets from around the New England Area, but also from China, to discuss poetry, and specifically, poetry’s impact on our natural environment and vice versa. This is an ongoing tradition; in the fall of 2018 Professor MacNeil traveled to China as a part of the same program.

“What’s being proposed,” she stated, “is that we are bringing over seven poets, scholars, artists for a symposium, open to the public, and it’s going to bring together these Chinese poet-scholars and also American poets and scholars, that are really focused on pastoral poetry.”

Pastoral Literature, according to Merriam-Webster, in the classical sense is a piece of literature dealing with shepherds or rural life in general. It typically serves to point out the contrast between the innocence and serenity of ‘the simple life,’ and the misery and corruption of the city, especially ‘court’ life. However, MacNeil calls these poets “The New Pastoral Poets,” or the “Poets of the Anthropocene.” Anthropocene is the current geological age, the period in which human activity has the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Thus this poetry is not only concerned with the social aspects of city life and modernity but also the lasting impact that our species is having on our planet. This is a rapidly growing movement not only for American poetry but also for Chinese poetry, making it the perfect subject matter to unite scholars year after year.

The focus of the symposium, MacNeil said, is to discuss the “ways in which language is used to preserve and care for our natural landscapes,” while also narrowing the divide between American and Chinese poets.

“Because of the divide, the cultural divide, and the lack of publishing that goes on in the United States with Chinese poets, and the lack of publication that goes on in China with American poets, this is going to be a really great way for people to get together and talk about the ways language can help to preserve our environment.”

The last time the gathering was held in America was in 2017, at Keene State College, in the coming year NEC is hoping to host an even bigger and better event. The symposium will be held over four days and open to the public. Students are encouraged to go and participate in the discussions as well as listen to the poetry, as this symposium will highlight how NEC supports the arts and liberal arts as well as conversations about the environment and “what it means to be human.”

The symposium will also allow the college to display some of its core values, specifically respecting varied qualities of individuals, communities and the world, as well as the pursuit of ecological sustainability.

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