Puszcza Białowieska, an ancient forest on the Polish-Belarusian border, is a unique reservoir of biodiversity, a UNESCO world heritage site, an inspiration to poets and artists, and — since August 2021, when a new immigration route into Europe was artificially opened by the Belarusian dictatorship — witness to a dramatic humanitarian crisis. This remote, easternmost corner of Europe, appreciated by nature lovers, researchers and exhausted Varsovians seeking respite from the stresses of city life, has become a complicated space where entangled planetary problems manifest themselves in new ways.
To consider these problems together, including such fundamental issues as climate change, migrations, the omnipresence of technology, the loss of biodiversity, is an intellectually challenging task whose urgency reaches far beyond this one specific geographical location. To write these problems is a literary challenge affecting not only the themes of literature but also its aesthetic strategies. The search for new forms of engaging with the crises-stricken world is especially intense in new, investigative poetries, though what is loosely termed "ecopoetics" can also be encountered in fiction, as well as non-fiction and essay. This talk will start in Białowieża (the setting of recent writings), and will subsequently look at selected Polish ecopoetic texts of different genres in order to reflect on the challenges and possibilities of literary imagination attempting to cross or problematize various borders, those cutting across geographical locations as well as those we carry in our bodies, minds and stories.
Co-sponsored by the Harvard Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures. With additional support from the Polish Cultural Institute, New York.
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