Wordsfest kicked off their third day of events with a “Poetics of Ecology” panel. The event highlighted the intertwined relationship between the environment and the natural world through the use of poetry, symbolic allegories and literary, artistic expression.
The Nov. 8 event was hosted by author and organizer Kevin Heslop, who asked panelists about the event's main theme, nature, and used poetry-related topics to facilitate conversation.
The panel challenged a wide variety of conventional views on nature and the environment, most notably the purpose of land acknowledgements. The importance of recognizing the Indigenous people who inhabited certain spaces prior to European settlement cannot be understated, however, panelist David Huebert urged attendees to consider the double entendre of the phrase “land acknowledgement.”
“This question of acknowledgement is fascinating to me. A thing I do is talk, on occasion, with students about questions of ecology. I always do an extensive land acknowledgement that attempts to push beyond the rote, tokenistic, blanket statement that is usually read by settlers,” said Huebert.
“‘What does the word acknowledgement mean to you?’ is worth thinking about. What land acknowledgement really does is acknowledge the land.”
Huebert, an author, explains that Indigenous nations, such as the Mi’kmaq people, uniquely view the land as animate. That is, they believe that the land is alive, almost as if commanding acknowledgement and stewardship — a viewpoint that is drastically different from the traditional Western world.
It is important to respect the natural components of that land, such as trees, soil and wildlife, in each land acknowledgement, according to Huebert.
This importance of recognizing land as animate and alive is also echoed by panelist Karen Houle, a poet and a philosophy professor at Guelph University, who stressed the importance of being attentive to nature.
“The natural world — which is everywhere: it is in this room, the spores, the wool breaking down, the angle of the sunlight in November,” explained Houle. “Every aspect of the world in which we are is astonishing and can capture fully our attentiveness and our absolute giving over to it showing us something.”
Houle poetically describes parts of the natural world, such as the trees and the changing seasons, as her teachers, re-emphasizing the event’s common theme surrounding the interactions between individuals and nature.
“Paying attention, slowing down, turning away from your notifications or turning away from your calendar or your to-do list and paying attention to the fungi,” Huebert reaffirmed. “I think literature helps us to do that, literature allows us to slow down, literature allows us to turn away from the presumption of use.”
Pollution was the final topic, as panelists discussed the role of waste once it contaminates the environment. Environmental pollution is not a new discovery, nor has its effects been minimized in recent years. However, the panelists view these pollutants from a different perspective.
“It’s too easy to think of garbage as something just to be thrown away,” said Tom Cull, assistant professor of history at Western and poet. “Pay attention to the objects in this world and where they will end up. What their stories are and how they interact. [For example] how the six-pack ring interacts and becomes a part of the ecology of the river.”
Huebert added to this notion and explained that there is an emotional history surrounding every object, no matter how small or insignificant.
According to Huebert, everything is derived from something. Even the petroleum that pollutes the oceans is derived from animal and vegetative bodies, things that were once alive.
The panelists offered a very distinct view of the environment, a perspective which is rarely seen. They hope that their perspectives on their environment can help inspire others to gain a new appreciation of nature.
Wordsfest will host more events this month, running until Nov. 21.