Dr. Jonathan Steinwand and student researchers are collecting environmental justice poems from cultures around the world for a new anthology.
Cleaner power from a dam may be a sign of hope for some, but for those displaced by the structure and raging water it’s a sign of despair. These are the paradoxes English professor Jonathan Steinwand and his research team looked at all summer as they collected environmental justice poems from cultures around the world for a new anthology.
Steinwand, along with student researchers Siri Manning ’14, Breckenridge, Minn., and Kirsten Lusty ’15, Alexandria, Minn., read and evaluated more than 6,000 poems from many countries. They each read an average of 100 poems per week and measured them against specific criteria to determine whether or not they would fit into their global anthology.
“Sometimes you would have to wrestle with [a poem],” Manning says. “And sometimes it would be exhausting.”
The topics the researchers tackled were tough. For every action there is a reaction, and in poetry there is a human storyteller adding another dimension.
“Literature can get you to feel the emotion from someone else’s perspective,” says Lusty. “News sources – we become blind to them. But when you read about [environmental topics in literature] you can’t really turn away from them.”
Steinwand had been compiling a list of this type of poetry for years. He needed it for his Global Literature and Environmental Justice class. When he realized an anthology of global environmental poetry didn’t exist, his colleagues said it was up to him to create it.
Lusty and Manning had taken Steinwand’s class and had been very affected by the way it made them think and rethink environmental topics.
“It ruined my life in the very best of ways,” Manning says.
They jumped at the chance to create something so meaningful for future students. Steinwand was a bit reluctant because he is not a poet, but decided the potential was just too important to set aside.
“I think these environmental issues know no borders,” Steinwand says. “Factories are built on the Mexico side of the border, and then Mexico does the same thing but further south. There are no borders when it comes to environmental justice.”
The research team selected 341 poems for possible inclusion in the anthology. The next step is trying to find a publisher and secure copyright permissions for the poetry. Regardless of that outcome, Steinwand has a whole new list of poems to choose from the next time he teaches his course.