Ecopoetics: Changing how students think and talk about ecology

By Mackenzie Nelson

“The photo I attached is of a thank you postcard that I made as part of an assignment. We started the class with a spring break field trip to Friday Harbor and the postcards were sent to some of the guest speakers. I tried to incorporate themes of nature, community, and elements of the guest speakers’ lectures into my card.” Julie Ann Koehlinger

The spring 2018 quarter brought a new class to the SMEA register: “Ecopoetics Along Shorelines.” This course, taught by SMEA assistant professor Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and CHID and PoE lecturer July Hazard, highlighted the dynamic boundary that is the shoreline. The course was cross listed among CHID and Honors as well.

This course gave students the opportunity to participate in a field course as well as a weekly seminar. During the field portion of the class, which took place at Friday Harbor Lab, students were encouraged to observe the ecological boundaries along the shoreline through a different perspective than they were used to—not as scientists trying to answer ecological questions, but as narrators sharing an image through the written word.

“Ecopoetics for me was a different lens through which to view the world, both in the things we read for class, and also in writing,” said SMEA student Julie Ann Koehlinger. “Much of what I’ve done while at SMEA (and in life) has had rigid boundaries, and the framework of Ecopoetics was a different set of boundaries…often flexible, sometimes undefined.”

This class focused on sharing observations as diverse as the students’ backgrounds. “The multidisciplinary aspect of the program made it stronger and forced each student to think about shorelines and water in new ways,” noted SMEA student Stephanie Wolek. “One of my roommates was a Master’s student in dance, there were poetry majors, there were science majors, and it was a great mixture of undergraduate and graduate faces.”

Picture from field intensive. Photo credit: Stephanie Wolek.

According to Wolek, “The field aspect, in my opinion, is an absolute must for the course (it was an optional two credits over Spring Break) as it tied both parts together and made the field journal a star.”

What did students take away from “Ecopoetics”? Julie Ann shares, “Because of my experience with field writing, I find myself paying more attention to details. Our seminars pushed me to think more critically about who controls the narrative of what I read and experience.”

Ecopoetics Along Shorelines will be offered spring and summer 2019 as a Field Intensive through the Honors Program.