Into This Blue: Betsy Warland’s Queer Ecopoetics

Into This Blue: Betsy Warland’s Queer Ecopoetics there is no outcome    only this blue - Betsy Warland Lavender’s Blue? In his introduction to the recent collection Prismatic Ecologies, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen writes that “green dominates our thinking about ecology like no other, as if the color were the only organic hue, a blaze for nature itself” (xix). Although there is nothing inherently wrong with green—it is, after all, a sensuous reminder of the extraordinary labor that plants and algae perform to transform light into life—the very plenitude of greenness tends also to give a particular ideological tint to certain variants of ecological thought. “The color green,” writes Cohen, “too frequently signifies a return, however belatedly, to the verdancy of an unspoiled world, to whatever remnants of a lost paradise might be reclaimed” (xxi); for Timothy Morton, “bright” green ecologies are thus not only overly optimistic, but also “sunny, straightforward, ableist, holistic, healthy, and hearty” (qtd. in Cohen xxi). Together, these tendencies suggest a utopian faith in capital-N nature, in the “restorative and even ecstatic powers of unblemished landscapes” (xx); this faith is part of a larger articulation of futurity in which Nature comes to be understood as the opposite of all things defiling, corrupting, and polluting. To this fresh, leafy mix, Vin Nardizzi adds that green fecundity is also often articulated with a specifically heterosexual futurity: “in its many guises … popular environmentalism … and certain strands of literary ecocriticism offer a ‘green hope’ for a future (or a back to the future) in which ‘a healthy relationship between human beings and the natural world’ obtains, usually within the confines of a normative family structure” (147). In its attachments to the Garden and associations with heteronormative understandings of growth and (re)generation, green would seem to color a pretty un-queer sort of ecological constellation of affects and practices. Obviously, though, green is not so simple. In Nardizzi’s subsequent reading of Ward Moore’s 1947 novel Greener Than You Think, although the Southern California lawn that is central to the story congeals a strong relationship between capitalism, the heterosexual couple/nuclear family, and the desire for a small, green piece of paradise, precisely its verdancy and profligate reprofuturity ultimately fuel a path of death and destruction. When the fertilizer “Metamorphizer”—originally intended as a “Green Revolution” technology for the stimulation of agricultural development in the Global South—is applied to Mr. and Mrs. Dinkman’s sorry patch of front yard, the lawn quickly takes greenness to the point of obscenity and, eventually, obliteration, its excess eventually destroying all other life on the planet. This green is part of a tradition of “plant horror” that shows the thinness of the green line between verdancy and excess (see my “Fear of a Queer Plant”). This green also hints at the possibilities of a decidedly queer green, a green that winks at verdancy and shows its underside, its death-dealing potentials as well as its forms of life that are not always already tied to reproductive futurism. Green is, in this vein, the exquisite color of the oxidizing corrosion/corruption of a bright copper roof; it is the liveliness of decomposition as well as growth. Green is also, as Cohen himself notes, the queasy, terrifying shade of a sky poised to become-tornado; it is the underside of the pastoral (with all of its enclosing, colonial inflections); it is envy rather than generosity. As Derek Jarman documents in his extended meditation on color, Chroma, although green may be always poised for its overdetermined uptake into verdancy and reprofuturity, it is also always potentially something else: the fact that Oscar Wilde wore a green carnation; that the green of poisonous plants is part of their attraction (and that arsenic was used to make emerald paint); and that sexologist “Havelock Ellis was certain that queers preferred green to any other colour” (70). Taking up the opportunity offered by Cohen, Eileen Joy experiments with the idea that blue might offer a different kind of constellation of chromatic possibilities for environmentalism than green: rather than simply respond to verdancy and proliferation by pointing out its underside or counter-narrative, blue, for Joy, directs us to the ecological possibilities of falling apart. She sees an orientation to depression, to “feeling blue,” as “a form of deeply empathic enmeshment with a world that suffers its own sea changes” (213). Such a “transcorporeal blue (and blues) ecology” would include “depression as a shared creative endeavor” (213), a collective affect that is “in the world, somehow, a type of weather or atmosphere, with the becoming-mad of the human mind only one of its many effects (a form of attunement to the world’s melancholy)” (214, her emphases). She argues that some material landscapes and literary texts are especially powerful sites of melancholic experience and/or that they bear material traces of the inexpressible loss, brokenness, and anguish of the world; the experience of prolonged, even incapacitating sadness in and among these sites has the potential to give rise to/tap into a profound sense of shared vulnerability and connection-in-dissolution, what Joy calls “a form of aesthetic (if sad) solidarity” (216, see also my “Losing My Place”). The idea that loss and grief may give rise to compassion is hardly new; the idea that feeling/seeing/reading blue might be a sensual, affective, ecological orientation in and to the world has not been, in what is, in the main, a pretty expansively green politics, quite as popular. I would argue that this blue ecological sensibility is also particularly amenable to a queer inflection, not least because it is part of the depathologization of negative affect in general that is integral to the works of queer theorists such as Ann Cvetkovich and J. Jack Halberstam. Both Cvetkovich and Halberstam argue that “queer negativity” takes issue not only with the institutions of heterosexuality (i.e. with the largely procreative, productivist infrastructure apparent in a world geared to marriage, families, and generational transmission and inheritance), but also with the emotional, temporal, and narrative modes of experiencing and storying life that accompany and sustain these institutions. For Cvetkovich, “negative feelings such as shame, failure, melancholy, and depression” are crucial to rethinking “categories such as utopia, hope, and happiness” (5), so that we can move toward—or, perhaps more precisely, linger with—forms of sociality, affiliation, time, and community that are not based, primarily, on a disavowal of the (dismal) present in favour of a future plenitude premised on the promise of new, clean (green) generations. For Halberstam, queer negativity, including states and relations of forgetfulness, passivity, and failure, interrupts “generational modes of transmission that ensure the continuity of ideas, family lines, and normativity itself” (123): “while failure certainly comes accompanied by a host of negative affects such as disappointment, disillusionment, and despair, it also provides the opportunity to use these negative affects to poke holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life” (3). Feeling/thinking/reading blue, here, is part of a constellation of resistant queer practices that affectively and politically interrupt a homonormative futurity oriented to green optimism: the practice is a cut against the grain of the prevalent move in mainstream LGBTQ politics toward such things as marriage rights; it is also a move toward thinking about queer subjectivities and materialities in relation to ecological thought that neither universalizes (ultimately, everything is queer) nor essentializes (only certain, clearly defined forms of living are queer) our embodied, political lives. The queer ecological shades of a blue affective constellation are not, of course, only about negativity (just as green is not only about positivity). Blue is the anti-pastoral ocean of Steve Mentz’s “blue cultural studies.” “Looking closely at the sea, rather than just the land,” he argues, “challenges established habits of thought” (997) such as the tendency to think of western imperialism as a history, primarily, of land enclosure, … ownership, and territorial expansion: “oceanic tropes, from the perils of shipwreck to the frustrations of navigation, can serve as powerful antidotes to pastoralism and other representations of landed stability” (1007). Blue is the desire for a blue rose. Although figured as perfect love, prosperity, and even immortality, blue roses are, like the desires they stand for, also impossible: they stubbornly refuse to exist either organically or technologically (the blue delphinidin used to try to insert the blue into hybridized ones is, cloned from pansies), and orient toward a queerly utopian, rather than reprofuturist, temporality (see Muñoz). Blue is also, more directly, a color of gender transgression. Famed queer aesthete Quentin Crisp (who came from, and archly rejected, the suburban sensibilities of South London) dyed his hair blue in 1948, welcoming into his body Picasso’s artistic “blue period” as part of a practice oriented to a making visible of the art/artifice of homosexuality in the midst of an increasingly respectable, heterosexual rendering of middle class life in the UK following World War II (Janes, “Famous for the Paint”). Jarman is especially articulate about queer possibilities of blue. The chapter in Chroma “Into the Blue” includes blue light (that brings the night with it), nude blue Pictish Britons, gun metal blue, blue language, royal blue robes, tight blue jeans, “the blue-tail fly that dances the blues in blue suede shoes” (103), and even the indigo that was once considered the dye of the Devil (105). The color is also especially poignant: blue is the “blue frost” of AIDS that caught so many of his friends by fatal surprise (109); “empty sky-blue” is the color of the after-image that the opthalmologist’s camera leaves after taking pictures of Jarman’s detaching retinas, destroyed by the ganciclovir he takes intravenously to control CMV (123)2; blue also “drags black with it” and is “darkness made visible” (114). In particular, blue is “an open door to the soul/An infinite possibility/Becoming tangible” (112): blue is thus the color that Jarman chooses to represent his experience of confronting the void of death in his final film, Blue. Blue consists of 72 minutes of unchanging ultramarine screen (citing Yves Klein’s monochrome painting IKB 79), accompanied by the voices of some of his favorite actors reading the text of “Into the Blue.” The blue on the screen defines a space of negativity and mourning as it reflects Jarman’s experience of illness and death; at the same time, however, it also produces an experience of great sensual intensity as the unremitting presence of the color comes to have a tangible, material, lively presence. Dying and liveliness, here, combine to produce blue: as Jarman writes in the last line of “Into the Blue” that is also the final words of the film, “I place a delphinium, Blue, upon your grave” (124), the bluest of blue flowers a memento mori that encapsulates the entwinement of life and death. Blue is, then, both living and dying. Blue is both opening and closing. Blue is memory and forgetting; blue is expansive generosity and deep mourning. Blue is desire and impossibility. Blue is sky and ocean, breathing and drowning. Blue is paradox. Blue is uncertainty. Blue is queer in the mode that Cvetkovich and Halberstam outline. But it is not only negative and, moreover, it not the opposite of green so much as it is a hue/affect/orientation/constellation that suggests forms of life, relationship, and temporality that are not eventually recuperable to neoliberal optimization, not a restful alibi for (or horrifying critique of) out-of-control productivity and reproductivity. But it suggests life, notwithstanding: obscure, uncertain, fleeting, shady, shattered, and limited, blue ecologies circulate around life that is full of holes in a world that needs to breathe. I think this blue ecology is worth lingering with simply because it is not green, because it constellates and aspires to a different kind of living. I also think it helps us understand a historical shift in queer ecological politics—and queer ecopoetics—from green to blue affective orientations, from green to blue aesthetics and politics, from green to blue desires, attachments, and forms of living together. I mean, here, to suggest—playfully, and also very seriously—that green and blue are at once affective, metaphoric, and material constellations that shade (and are shaded by) specific kinds of queer articulation and aspiration. Green is a metaphor, yes, but green is also, as Nardizzi’s brilliant Greener reading demonstrates, an ontological twining of photosynthetic with suburban desire. Blue is a figure, yes, but blue is also, as Joy’s beautiful blue essay embodies, a sensation that connects watery and melancholic temperaments in a way that is not only about a challenge to greenness, to positivity, to verdancy, but something chromatically, and queerly, quite different. Perhaps not unusually—theoretical articulation so often follows, rather than leads, poetic attention—I actually witnessed and identified this shift first through reading poetry, by experiencing the traces a not-yet-fully-articulable-to-me queer movement between a green and a blue constellation of words, images, and sensations as contained in the work of a single poet. Specifically, when I recently read Canadian poet Betsy Warland’s book Only This Blue (2005), I was struck by the sheer force of her invocations of color, the tangible chromatic presences of pink blossoms, red algae, a yellow van, and especially green language and blue possibility, in the unfolding of her long poem response to healing from cancer. I was led to re-read some of her earlier writing, specifically Open is Broken (1984)—a work that was very important to me when I was just beginning to find a lesbian voice—and found a richness of colorful articulation there, too, especially in her folding of lesbian language play with green utopian desire: a desire that she revisits, and from which she moves away, in the newer work. In what follows, then, I explore these two poetic works by Warland, written twenty years apart, in order to trace one, chromatic route of a lesbian/queer ecopoetic sensibility from the 1980s to the early 2000s. This sensibility begins with her attempt to “break open” a lesbian erotic poetry at the limits of (patriarchal, heteronormative, English) language in the 1980s in Open is Broken: here, Warland imagines an emergent, green tongue with which to explore lesbian sexuality, both literally and linguistically. More recently, in Only This Blue, she moves away from a poetics of lesbian fecundity into one of shattered corporeality: trying to relearn this green in the wake of a major illness and surgery, she moves eventually toward a blue response to her body—and to the spaces of the Vancouver in which she writes—articulating a poetics oriented to the eventual impossibility of speaking green. Her poetry, here, is blue, airborne, and oriented to a very different languaging of life. It is this new chromatic–poetic embodiment, I think, that underscores the importance of a blue ecological orientation to contemporary queer ecological politics and aesthetics: although there is always a queer possibility to green, Only This Blue shows powerfully that there is something about blue that orients a specifically queer ecopoetic sensibility. Open is Broken: “The Green Ladder” Betsy Warland emerged as a significant poet in the midst of 1970s/1980s radical lesbian and feminist politics. One of the initiators of the Toronto Women’s Writing Collective (1975–1981) and organizers of the important “Women and Words/Les femmes et les mots” conference in Vancouver in 1983,3Open is Broken, published in 1984, was her second book of poetry. The book is dedicated to her then-lover, poet Daphne Marlatt, and is very much a work of its time. Like the French feminism that was increasingly influential in North America during this period (especially after the appearance of the translated collection New French Feminisms in 1980), the book works toward a language to represent, create, and embody women’s experiences and emerging selves against a masculine symbolic–linguistic order in which women are, corporeally and linguistically, rendered (and rendered silent) according to male desires and laws. To this écriture féminine, as such writing was termed by Hélène Cixous in “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976), Warland explicitly adds an écriture lesbienne: a language of, for, and by lesbians, in order to represent lesbian experience, especially forms of lesbian sexuality that have been consigned to invisibility, and in order to give rise to forms of lesbian being not imaginable within current phallogocentric worlds. In the prose poem that opens the book, “untying the tongue,” Warland writes that her quest to break open heteropatriarchal language begins with her “realization that the English language tongue-ties me. this ‘restricted mobility’ was most apparent in my attempts to speak of my erotic life … is it taboo? TABOO: ‘ta, mark + bu, exceedingly.’ are women afraid to ‘mark’ the paper? Or as Hélène Cixous writes, ‘inscribe ourselves?’” (9).4 As she expands: the language itself does not reflect women’s sensual experiences. for most of us, however, it is… the only language we have. open is broken is about the words i abandon. ABANDON: “to put in one’s power…” so, when we abandon words, it … [is] a turning over of our power to those who keep them: speechless the consequence. (10)To turn away from masculine words for sex is also to abandon the experience it evokes: how, then, does a lesbian have a relationship to “surrender” that neither accepts its patriarchal meaning of renouncing ownership nor denies the sexual heat of its pull as a word, the only one we have? Warland turns to usage: “women have been DISMEMBERED: ’dis- (removal) + membrum, member’ from the word. in tracing words back, i have found that etymology nearly always re-members the feminine sensibility of our inner landscapes.… abandoned words spring up from deep places, claiming our eroticism reclaims the dismembered” (10–11). The task, then, for the new women/lesbian writer is to be “a new kind of inhabitant of language, … on that double edge where she has always lived, between the already spoken and the unspeakable, sense and non-sense, only now she writes it, risking nonsense, chaotic language leafings.… inside language she leaps for joy, shoving out the walls of taboo and propriety, … discovering life in old roots” (12). Open is Broken begins, in the section “induction,” with etymological play: showing our “sexts” in between the lines and words of patriarchal language, our mothertongue “pre-texts,” our corporeal tonguetexts, scentexts, vortexts, our “inhertextualities” (13–15). It then moves, in the second section, to create space for lesbian wor(l)ds to come “up from under” to name our own wild territories. Some directly attempt new bodily vocabularies for our relationships, “rapping knuckles on/hollow casting/[to] sing[] out desire/back/and forth”(20); others describe, intimately, specific moments of encounter between two women (sometimes in the second person) in a move—often phrased as a question—to capture something in the moment that might pierce through language toward understanding: “can i tell of the tenderness? how she sleeps/her cheek on my private pillow/body within my leg’s embrace” (27). These poems exhort us to lose and rediscover ourselves in erotic forms of awareness that draw us in and propel into a new language, speaking of primal erotic experiences that are not, after all, extinguished: now, when i hold you in my mouth i sing music known only within the chambers of our bodies sound before the warp of worlds certain birds are not taught their song know it without having heard it sung (22)Here, the energies that emerge in the encounter between body and word are also part of the book’s erotics: the poetry does not simply represent lesbian sexuality, it is an integral part of it. Words become entangled with flesh; poetry is part of a process of corporeal exploration; words are body fluids, shared in intimate exchanges that break open selves, language, and bodies together: … in flat light of broken boundaries bumped into furniture into each other before you became           pinpoint of intensity           planet of light within theatre black hole as you read love poems to me (31) The third section of the book, “open is broken,” is a long poem in nineteen sections that draws us more slowly through a process of lesbian linguistic/erotic becoming: shattering convention, emerging in infancy, exploring new forms of embodiment and language, developing a syntax, discovering a new terrain, finding a poetry, untying a tongue for and beyond pages that move and throb with change, “a radiant throat in your hands”: “lungs fisting the air amulet against …/you could stop reading/but the pulse in your hands has led you here” (52). It begins with an egg, broken open, yolk and white skinless and vulnerable: “an eye with no mind” (35); But “words like moon and egg/words that did not startle” are too trustworthy in the face of chthonic lesbian desire: she is “pulled into a whirlpool/claim, surrender, sow, manure flying out/… words from another place, old place, vaguely remembered” (42). As the poem moves toward an écriture lesbienne, it is powered simultaneously by concerted language work—especially by a helical sense of etymological return, and return, toward an original, more feminine vocabulary—and by a forcefully sexual lesbian desire that works to explode the relationship between received word and emergent world, creating larger and larger spaces for that language to emerge. The dialectical force of this movement inheres especially in the tongue, which learns to speak fluently the syntax of the skin, claiming the desiring body in/as a new idiom: the code broken by your fluency fluent: “soft, wet, naked, exposed” you part the covers          to set free urged by your fluency: “to swell up, well up, overflow” our fluids spout out hot gold             rivulets punctuating ecstasy (43) For our purposes in this article, I note one additional, interesting feature: Warland consistently depicts the chthonic eroticism of lesbian sexuality as green, and develops the color with precisely the sense of organic, arboreal, verdancy and proliferation that elsewhere binds it to a more obviously reproductive futurity. Clearly, Warland’s green is not that of a suburban front lawn: its utopian project voices green in a specifically lesbian register, in fact retrieving abundance and flourishing from their ideological embeddedness in heteropatriarchal sexuality and language. There is “something,” she writes, “in the garden not present before” (35): opened, the green landscape reveals possibilities for lesbian sexuality and identity that are strangled and silenced in heteropatriarchal language. What Warland creates, then, is a lesbian ecopoetics: a tracing of organic possibility, through lesbian erotic experience and languaging, into a newly and differently green understanding of the relations between body, word, and world. The central poem in this green rearticulation (III) describes the experience of orgasm as a coming (literally) to the top of a tree. Playing with a Greek origin of leaf in lepein (to peel off) as well as with the leaf of Old English (involving both plants and papers), and with the double dynamic of breaking and opening that characterizes her vision of lesbian language and experience, Warland writes that “the leaves witness you unsheathing me” (37). Here, both the leaves of the tree and the leaves of the paper on which the words are written are imprinted with the budding (another leaf, here a verb) of sexual arousal: in front of a window full of green eyes we climb the green ladder: “clitoris, incline, climax” on the tip of your tongue you flick me leaf: “lift” up to tip tree top (37) Green eyes, green ladder: in a community of green, the resinous fluids of desire flow up to the “roof of the world,” toward fullness, toward turgidity, toward an arboreal lesbian, orgasmic, flourishing. And after, as the leaves fall and sink into rich, dark compost, they “leave us in our/beththrothal: ‘truth, tree’” (37): orgasm becomes the organic foundation of a new truth, a truth that is also a promise (betrothal) of a future, green ability to speak with “my resin on your swollen lips” (37).5 The rich humus of lesbian sexuality becomes, in the end, the fertile medium in which lesbian identity grows: “between your legs/home soil, native soil/land things grow, flourish, thrive in” (47). Below the soil’s heteropatriarchal verb—“to make dirty, defile, pollute with sin” (46)—is the base material of the noun’s organic possibility: “top layer of the earth’s surface, land, country” (47). This country is to be found in “the place where we touch and taste each other” (50); this “found/ation” (47) begins the language of lesbian desire, identity, and inhabitation. Or, as Warland writes in a poem closer to the beginning of the book, this country is also a place, subversively reinhabited: this park is not a square is triangle of Aphrodite, mound of Venus claiming herself a symbol of our fecundity … a man on a bicycle careens by shouts “this park is dangerous you know!”               we know he doesn’t realize the why has changed (21) The green, sensual articulation of lesbian eroticism and language in Open is Broken seems, when I read it more than thirty years after its publication, almost impossibly exuberant. Even at the time, it was a utopian poetics: an invitation to the tongue to aspire toward new forms of lesbian language, an intensely corporeal practice of queer poetic imagination. Don’t get me wrong: I love this book, the twinning of exuberance and lesbian desire against reproductive futurism, the sheer fun of it. However, despite Warland’s gorgeous rendering of erotic and poetic possibility, in the intervening years, lesbian poetics and politics have taken a number of decided turns away from this lush orientation, and from a dream of a language or practice that could, somehow, conjure a collective lesbian experience from corporeal experience (for the record, I do not reject lushness: it is just more complicated, now). For one thing, the identity “lesbian” has proved to be multiple, amorphous, historically contextual, and very much divided along lines of race, class, and politics: there is no common language, and lesbian feminism’s political aspiration toward autonomous institutions and practices without sufficient attention to other, intersecting forms of oppression and silencing created serious problems, even despite the influence of Black lesbians such as Audre Lorde.6 In addition, although it is most certainly the case that not all lesbian feminists were or are transphobic, attachment to organicist understandings of women’s corporealities, languages, and identities created conditions that were very hostile to trans and genderqueer people: the idea that “womyn-born-womyn” have a particular collective experience distinct from that of trans women showed the real limits of this lesbian sexual identity politics.7 Finally, lesbian feminism lost much of its political edge as lesbian and gay identities moved toward the mainstream: being a lesbian was no longer an act of corporeal defiance against patriarchal capitalism, but increasingly a “lifestyle choice” that does not necessarily carry a larger, socially transformative agenda (see Stein, “Sisters and Queers”). The vexedness of a lush, green, erotic language for lesbian bodies and identities is also, however, related to the violent disruption and realignment of the relationship between sexual pleasure and politics inaugurated by AIDS. Open is Broken was published in 1984; the first official medical reporting of the unknown disease that came to be known as HIV/AIDS was in 1981, the term AIDS was coined in 1982, and by the end of 1984 nearly 4,000 people (in the US alone), the vast number of whom were gay men, had died of the disease, often in horrible conditions (from that point, the number increased exponentially until the development of effective anti-retroviral drugs in the 1990s). Although, for obvious reasons, lesbian feminists had not easily allied themselves politically with gay men, many lesbians had strong ties to gay male communities and politics, and the AIDS crisis created conditions for new forms of relationship and political affinity as lesbians played an important role in providing care, friendship, and advocacy for sick and dying men in the context of hostile, homophobic, and AIDS-phobic families of origin, medical institutions, and social/political relations.8 (AIDS Action Now! And ACT-UP also included many lesbians in leadership roles.) Sex-positive liberationist politics were dramatically disrupted (although differently for gay men than for lesbians); a sense of corporeal fragility and uncertainty came to haunt many gay and lesbian literary works—as exemplified by Jarman’s Chroma—and, although utopian dimensions have never been erased from LGBTQ aesthetics (see Muñoz, Halberstam), an uncritically exuberant articulation of sex with abundance was, and is, simply no longer conceivable.9 Only This Blue The emergence of a publicly-claimed “queer” orientation to theory and activism in the 1990s, not surprisingly, carried with it a strong sense of death even as it renewed a movement toward radical, transformative possibility for lesbian and gay politics. Where the mainstream LGBT movement was (and is) increasingly focused on pursuing a more assimilationist civil and marriage rights agenda (which Lisa Duggan has aptly named homonormativity), many queer thinkers have chosen to rally around negativity, in different ways, as a critical response to the ascendance of neoliberal hyper-productivity. In this view, abundance comes to be tainted not just with heteronormativity but also with a sense of metastasis (rather like Moore’s Metamorphizered grass): seen through a critical, queer lens, reproductive futurity is twinned with a specifically neoliberal, capitalist metabolism bent on the endless proliferation of a profitized mode of living. Far from being a descent into anti-ecological nihilism (see Garrard, “How Queer is Green?”), queer theory (and queer ecology in particular) signals a recognition of the ways in which queer politics might respond to the multiple forms of death that are part of our current ecological, biopolitical, condition. This negativity is part of the affective universe of AIDS; it is also a thoughtful turn aside from an identity politics that attempts to move directly toward fullness, completion, and fruition in a context where identities are more likely experienced and recognized as partial, contextual, fluid, performative, and precarious: in which sex can’t be understood apart from race and gender; in which affinities are produced in complicated situ. It is a response, in addition, to the death that permeates neoliberal productivism, and that serves as its limit. Death created, from lesbian and gay politics, queer bedfellows during the height of the AIDS movement; a continued focus on death, failure, woundedness, relationality, and negativity in queer theory, aesthetics, and politics suggests openness to forms of loss, shared vulnerability, and affinity that were not as possible in earlier, more verdantly utopian, political moments, and that challenge more current body/language relations.10 Here, in addition to critical queer uptakes of green such as Jarman’s, we find the emerging blueness of queer ecologies (and, vice versa, the queerness of blue ecologies): blue is worldly depression, not the cruel optimism of neoliberal fantasy (Berlant, Cruel Optimism). Blue is the compassion that derives from loss, and the networks of care that may spring from the experience: not hearty, organic, muscular, progressive solidarity. Blue is a recognition of fragility, vulnerability, and precarious, ecological enmeshedness in the world. Blue is a political form that does not rush to positivity, but instead lingers in critique for long enough to question the necessity and temporality of growth and expansion. Blue is desire and its limits. Blue is uncertainty. Blue is negativity (but not apocalypticism). Blue is fragility, a move toward dispersion in breath, in the sky, rather than a solid identity, grounded in the earth. Betsy Warland’s Only This Blue carries this blue, queer ecological affect, both because it is a work that speaks in and to this new milieu, and also because it bears the weight and mortality of her own experience of breast cancer.11 Like Jarman’s Chroma, it is a journey through color that explores the different tints and textures of white, green, red, yellow, and blue relationships; unlike Chroma, it is a single narrative that clearly moves from green to blue as Warland renegotiates her experience of her body, and of her body’s relationship to place, as she heals in the wake of a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.12 The poem begins in a technician’s office, in the black and white glow of an ultrasound machine monitor: “she makes writing motions on my skin/searchers for density and shape” (7). Immediately, we are immersed in a body/language poetics that is very different from the one propelling the utopian untying of tongues in Open is Broken: here, the writing on/in the body traces the ghosts of tumors in among the “roiling boil/of normalcy” (7) and, as the poem continues, we are drawn, with Warland, into a process of healing that has no choice but to encircle the ghosts, to embrace the absence of her breasts, and to attend to the holes in the language and landscape that become apparent to her as she moves, and writes, into remission. (Even the layout of the poem invokes these spectral presences/absences: the poem runs for nearly 100 pages, with the left page of each pair left blank and the white spaces on many of the right ones larger than the printed lines.) Initially, Warland attempts to reinsert herself into a language and practice of rebirth and renewal: spring, planting, burgeoning anew from expectant “seeds bulbs roots wrapped in/endless earth night” (11). As she writes, she is “learning green” (11), coaxing her body into verdancy by the performance of growth: i have taken to wearing          green my hairless head a shy perseverant shoot (11) But the “earnest green” (13) performance is exhausting, and a green language in which to speak to her healing is unattainable: language of green ever in between        bud & bough earth & sky who could ever speak           green? (15) As she moves through a Vancouver springtime filled with pink cherry blossoms (which, like little blood spots, interrupt the green of the grass) and other encounters with color in the world around her—a boy throwing a soccer ball “blue-sky ward” (13), a frightening corner store robbery involving a white bag and a yellow van (19)—she wants to recognize herself in her body, and in the place that brings her body back to her visually, relationally, and kinaesthetically. Like the story of someone who took her children to see where she grew up and found “the address was right but/the house torn down/, creek filled in,” she “seeks reassurance even in/familiar flaws” (23) but finds herself a stranger in the midst of a perceptual bodyworld that has irrevocably changed. She surprises herself: she runs for the bus and is amazed with the ease with which she can do so, “this is me/before/i had breasts” (25). She notices that she is: an unknown season a-rhythmical    , differently balanced with things cut out       & off (31) And she finds it hard to locate a language with which to grasp her “unspeakable sensations/of never the same” (33): the words falter on the page, a small voice in relation to large, surrounding, blank spaces of silences and lacunae. Very differently from Open is Broken, in which the quest to find a new language for unspoken/unspeakable experience is part of a wonderful lesbian greening move toward linguistic and corporeal plenitude, in this new experience of healing around loss she finds that “i flail/in a sea of newgreen” (29): the intimacy of words and bodies that she describes, here, is uncertain and interrogative rather than fulsome and declarative, and she wonders about the possibility of intimacy itself as a linguistic or relational aspiration:      will you, green? i lie next to these poems i lie next to you      , intimacy contingent (39) Especially when following the question—“will you, green?”—that begins the page, as if green were a lover from whom she demands a response, the breaths of the enjambments open space for hesitation and inconclusion. The contrast to Open is Broken could not be more palpable. Where, in the earlier work, green playfully colors utopian arousal, orgasm, and fulfilment, in this stanza green is a questioning horizon without a tangible end. It is a demand that neither the poetry nor the intimate “you” can satisfy; it is an invitation to a futurity in which the body, and the language of the body, are open questions rather than seeds of possibility lying dormant, but fully potential, in the present. Perhaps not surprisingly, Warland’s chromatic journey through her healing process leads her toward a form of ecological open-endedness that moves her away from green desires. She is open to the landscape of Vancouver and its changing colors and textures through the seasons of her writing, revealing her bodily enmeshedness; she is opened by carcinogens, surgery, and other intrusions, revealing her bodily precariousness. Acknowledging the openness of her body to the “pathology of oil by-products” (47), she dreams of cutting open (a kitchen knife with a “cedar-green handle” [51]) and writes of veins (red and blue) open to chemotherapeutic cocktails. But this opening does not create space for a new, green whole: instead of a green climax there is a crow who “caws/at/—muscularity of green—” (57), mocking the “yes of green” (51) even as it blinks to her from traffic lights and camera shutters. What she begins to see are the openings between the green of leaves and blades, spaces that give each one individual shape and definition. She notes the porosity of the body as it heals, the between-ness that is skin, and the fact that the lively “greed & grace & gulp of green” (81) is only possible when enabled by other colors and intensities. Yellow comes to her in the “flashing signature” (81) of birds; “to dare yellow …/yell, Oh!” (85) is to crack open the green and reveal the primary blue that informs and permeates it. Blue is “ocean-soft summer twilight” and “azure darkening” (99); “blue observes all colours/reflects all colours/hearts the flame” (97). Blue is the pause between words, between leaves, between pages, between bodies. Blue is the journey, not the conclusion. Blue is remission, not recovery. As if to emphasize the difference between a green and a blue telos, Warland repeats and revises an image from Open is Broken near the end of Only This Blue: “come see the moon!”13 Where, in the earlier poem, the words are spoken by a desiring lover who beckons her toward “tongues bloom blooming” (36), in the latter, the words belong to a stranger walking the seawall, and include a crucial qualifier: “Come see the moon. It’s free!” (99). Warland repeats the phrase, and emphasizes it: “Come see the moon/It’s free!” (101): free of attachment to a narrative of desire and plenitude, free of answers, free of closure. As she writes in the final stanza: to not be afraid when there is every reason to fear       – we know what we must do – there is no outcome           only this blue (103) In their work on breast cancer and queer temporalities, Jackie Stacey and Mary Bryson write that “cancer survivorship is a statement in the present prefect (of having survived) that speaks a desire for the future that it knows is uncertain (when does remission become survival?)” (5). Specifically, they argue that cancer inserts into linear, normative life narratives “a more haphazard mix, deflecting us from any sense of life’s proper path” (6). In particular, cancer warps heteronormative temporalities of sequential continuity and “geneaological histories of kinship and relatedness, … of the narrational flows of personal biography” (6–7). Warland’s experience of breast cancer, and of her always uncertain and provisional healing around a kernel of loss/absence/death and toward the blue of open-endedness, is clearly aligned with this queer analysis. Only This Blue shows powerfully that an understanding of bodies, lifespans, and generations as continuous and progressive is a normative, dangerous fiction, that life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and AIDS offer a dramatic glimpse of the limits of this fiction, and that such experiences of temporal and corporeal disturbance can pull toward a larger queer orientation to blue affects and ecologies: to a powerful awareness of precariousness and enmeshedment, to a dwelling in the present, and to a critical perspective on heteronormative time’s “false promise of … the predictability of the future” (Stacey and Bryson, 15). This apprehension of the contingent body embroiled in space, time, and relationships (some of which are carcinogenic) is key to a queer ecology oriented toward interrupting the metastasizing narrative of endless growth, verdancy, and neoliberal progress that is tied to heteronormative temporalities and futurities. Where green so often dwells in the generativity of this reproductive register, where we need to go instead is into this blue. In the lyric essay “Nose to Nose” that acts as a reflective epilogue to Only This Blue, Warland reflects on the relationship between poetry and the material world, and between language and silence: “at poem’s base is the depth of our unknowing. At its crest is our knowing. In the movement between—poem’s urgent momentum” (105). Queer ecopoetry takes up this urgent momentum and turns it to an understanding of the intricacy and fragility of lives and relationships, revealing an ecology of bodies and worlds that share the blue present, and languaging that present as an open-ended journey rather than a trip along a known trajectory of enrichment. Implicitly comparing her own survival to that of species, she suggests that living is more about the ability to incorporate change and uncertainty than it is about the fitness of predefined capacities. Moreover, she argues that poetry is that survival. A queer blue ecology, then, would do well to remember Warland’s words: “poetry is change in the act of. Like beauty, its fluidity surprises and transforms us. As with species’ survival, poem embodies resilient inventiveness” (110). Footnotes 1 My thanks to the special issue editors and two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. 2 Ganciclovir (DHPG) was commonly prescribed to control CMV (cytomegalovirus) retinitis, one of the most common opportunistic infections experienced by people with AIDS before the advent of current antiretroviral treatments. The drug has many serious effects, including leukemia, haemorrhage, and, as in Jarman’s case, retinal detachment. 3 The 1000-participant conference included both emerging and established women writers, editors, publishers, educators and organizers; it was a project of the West Coast Women and Word Society, whose mandate was to support women writers by organizing readings, workshops, anthologies, and opportunities for mentoring. Although the society formally ended in 1998, Warland has continued to take this mandate very seriously: she was the founding organizer and inaugural Director of the Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and continues to be much sought after as a teacher and mentor. 4 In all of the poems by Warland quoted in the rest of the paper, all punctuation, capitalization, italicization, and spacing are in the original. 5 The double meaning of “lips” (referring both to facial and labial ones) is not, of course, unique to this poem, just as Warland’s exploration of the relations between language and sexuality in Open is Broken is part of a larger current of lesbian and feminist lingua-corporeal exploration. See Irigaray: “If we don’t invent a language, if we don’t find our body’s language, its gestures will be too few to accompany our story” (76). 6 Lorde’s beautiful essay “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power” (to which Warland refers) also considers the erotic as a generative force for lesbians, and something to be liberated from white, male power relations: “Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama” (59). Open is Broken, however, draws a connection much more specifically to French feminist language/body politics, and does not consider that there might be other language/power/body dynamics that lesbian feminism might need to break open. White, middle class privileging of sex over other power relations has been a problem for more than just lesbian feminism. 7 One of the most infamous moments in this relationship concerned a 1991 incident at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in which a trans woman was asked by organizers to leave, on the basis that the festival was intended for “womyn-born-womyn.” The division between trans and “womyn-born” women polarized the Festival until its demise in 2015. 8 The complicated political relationship between lesbians and gay men in the midst of changing civil rights, gay liberationist, lesbian feminist, and LGBTQ agendas is a much larger topic than this article can address (again, see Stein, “Sisters and Queers”). There is no question, however, that the AIDS crisis helped to shape a dramatic rearticulation of LGBT political community. 9 For specifically ecocritical readings of AIDS-related literatures, see Hogan, “Queer Green Apocalypse” and Sandilands, “Mourning Nature.” Again, I do not think queer ecological erotic abundance is impossible (see Stephens and Sprinkle); I do think it is now, if it wasn’t always, already haunted. 10 Conversations about queer theoretical negativity often circulate around the Lee Edelman’s powerful text No Future, which has provoked a cascade of responses too large to summarize here (although Muñoz, Halberstam, and Cvetkovich are three of them). For specifically ecocritical responses to Edelman, see Anderson, “Warm Blood” and Seymour, Strange Natures. This article does not directly engage Edelman: that ground is very thoroughly covered already. 11 Warland also explores the textures of loss in Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (2000), a long lyric prose/poem that explores her complicated relationship to her mother throughout her dying. 12 She only refers in passing to the surgery—“this is me / before / I had breasts” (25)—and the chemotherapy—“my hairless head a shy / perseverant shoot” (11)—as her focus is not on the medical experience but rather on the process of healing. 13 There is another interesting allusion to the earlier poem in the image of a robin perched “at the top of the top-most tree,” thinking nothing but to sing “light out … / dark in” (27). At the top of the tree-green ladder, there is ultimately more birdsong than lesbian language. Works Cited Anderson Jill. “‘Warm Blood and Live Semen and Rich Marrow and Wholesome Flesh!’: A Queer Ecological Reading of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man.” Journal of Ecocriticism  3. 1 ( 2011): 51– 66. Berlant Lauren. Cruel Optimism . Duke UP, 2011. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cixous Hélène, Cohen Keith, Cohen Paula. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs  1. 4 ( 1976): 875– 93. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cohen Jeffrey Jerome, ed. “Introduction.” Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green . U of Minnesota P, 2013. xv– xxxv. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cvetkovich Ann. Depression: A Public Feeling . Duke UP, 2012. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Duggan Lisa. “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics . Ed. Castronovo Russ, Nelson Dana, Duke UP, 2002. Edelman Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive . Duke UP, 2004. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Garrard Greg. “How Queer is Green?” Configurations  18. 1–2 ( 2010): 73– 96. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Halberstam Judith (Jack). The Queer Art of Failure . Duke UP, 2011. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Hogan Katie. “Queer Green Apocalypse: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.” International Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism . Ed. Gaard Gretaet al.  , Routledge, 2013. 235– 53. Irigaray Luce, Burke Carolyn. “When Our Lips Speak Together.” Signs  6. 1 ( 1980): 69– 79. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Janes Dominic. “‘Famous for the Paint She Put on Her Face’: London’s Painted Poofs and the Self-fashioning of Francis Bacon.” Sex, Time and Place: Queer Histories of London, c.1880 to the Present. Ed. Simon Avery and Katherine Graham. Bloomsbury, 2016. Jarman Derek. Chroma: A Book of Color . Overlook Press, 1995. Jarman Derek.. Blue ( 1993). Zeitgeist Films, 2008. Film. Joy Eileen A. “Blue.” Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green . Ed. Jerome Cohen Jeffrey. U of Minnesota P, 2013. 213– 32. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Lorde Audre. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Sister Outside: Essays and Speeches . The Crossing Press, 1984. Marks Elaine, Courtivron Isabelle de, Eds. New French Feminisms: An Anthology.  U of Massachusetts P, 1980. Mentz Steve. “Toward a Blue Cultural Studies: The Sea, Maritime Culture, and Early Modern English Literature.” Literature Compass  6. 5 ( 2009): 997– 1013. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Muñoz José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity . New York UP, 2009. Nardizzi Vin. “Greener.” Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green . Ed. Jerome Cohen Jeffrey, U of Minnesota P, 2013. 147– 69. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Sandilands Catriona. “Fear of a Queer Plant.” GLQ: Gay and Lesbian Quarterly  23. 3 ( 2017): 419– 29. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Sandilands Catriona.. ”Losing My Place: Landscapes of Depression.” Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief . Ed. Cunsolo Ashlee, Landman Karen, McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017. Sandilands Catriona.. “Melancholy Natures, Queer Ecologies.” Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire . Ed. Sandilands Catriona, Erickson Bruce. Indiana UP, 2010. 331– 58. Seymour Nicole. Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination . U of Illinois P, 2013. Stacey Jackie, Bryson Mary. “Queering the Temporality of Cancer Survivorship.” Aporia  4. 1 ( 2012): 5– 17. Stein Arlene. “Sisters and Queers: The Decentering of Lesbian Feminism.” Shameless: Sexual Dissidence in American Culture . New York U, 2006. 84– 102. Stephens Elizabeth, Sprinkle Annie. Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story . Alive Minds/Kino Lorber, 2014. Film. Warland Betsy. Only This Blue: A Long Poem with an Essay . The Mercury Press, 2005. Warland Betsy.. Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss . Second Story Press, 2000. Warland Betsy.. Open is Broken . Longspoon Press, 1984. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment Oxford University Press

Into This Blue: Betsy Warland’s Queer Ecopoetics

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Abstract

there is no outcome    only this blue - Betsy Warland Lavender’s Blue? In his introduction to the recent collection Prismatic Ecologies, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen writes that “green dominates our thinking about ecology like no other, as if the color were the only organic hue, a blaze for nature itself” (xix). Although there is nothing inherently wrong with green—it is, after all, a sensuous reminder of the extraordinary labor that plants and algae perform to transform light into life—the very plenitude of greenness tends also to give a particular ideological tint to certain variants of ecological thought. “The color green,” writes Cohen, “too frequently signifies a return, however belatedly, to the verdancy of an unspoiled world, to whatever remnants of a lost paradise might be reclaimed” (xxi); for Timothy Morton, “bright” green ecologies are thus not only overly optimistic, but also “sunny, straightforward, ableist, holistic, healthy, and hearty” (qtd. in Cohen xxi). Together, these tendencies suggest a utopian faith in capital-N nature, in the “restorative and even ecstatic powers of unblemished landscapes” (xx); this faith is part of a larger articulation of futurity in which Nature comes to be understood as the opposite of all things defiling, corrupting, and polluting. To this fresh, leafy mix, Vin Nardizzi adds that green fecundity is also often articulated with a specifically heterosexual futurity: “in its many guises … popular environmentalism … and certain strands of literary ecocriticism offer a ‘green hope’ for a future (or a back to the future) in which ‘a healthy relationship between human beings and the natural world’ obtains, usually within the confines of a normative family structure” (147). In its attachments to the Garden and associations with heteronormative understandings of growth and (re)generation, green would seem to color a pretty un-queer sort of ecological constellation of affects and practices. Obviously, though, green is not so simple. In Nardizzi’s subsequent reading of Ward Moore’s 1947 novel Greener Than You Think, although the Southern California lawn that is central to the story congeals a strong relationship between capitalism, the heterosexual couple/nuclear family, and the desire for a small, green piece of paradise, precisely its verdancy and profligate reprofuturity ultimately fuel a path of death and destruction. When the fertilizer “Metamorphizer”—originally intended as a “Green Revolution” technology for the stimulation of agricultural development in the Global South—is applied to Mr. and Mrs. Dinkman’s sorry patch of front yard, the lawn quickly takes greenness to the point of obscenity and, eventually, obliteration, its excess eventually destroying all other life on the planet. This green is part of a tradition of “plant horror” that shows the thinness of the green line between verdancy and excess (see my “Fear of a Queer Plant”). This green also hints at the possibilities of a decidedly queer green, a green that winks at verdancy and shows its underside, its death-dealing potentials as well as its forms of life that are not always already tied to reproductive futurism. Green is, in this vein, the exquisite color of the oxidizing corrosion/corruption of a bright copper roof; it is the liveliness of decomposition as well as growth. Green is also, as Cohen himself notes, the queasy, terrifying shade of a sky poised to become-tornado; it is the underside of the pastoral (with all of its enclosing, colonial inflections); it is envy rather than generosity. As Derek Jarman documents in his extended meditation on color, Chroma, although green may be always poised for its overdetermined uptake into verdancy and reprofuturity, it is also always potentially something else: the fact that Oscar Wilde wore a green carnation; that the green of poisonous plants is part of their attraction (and that arsenic was used to make emerald paint); and that sexologist “Havelock Ellis was certain that queers preferred green to any other colour” (70). Taking up the opportunity offered by Cohen, Eileen Joy experiments with the idea that blue might offer a different kind of constellation of chromatic possibilities for environmentalism than green: rather than simply respond to verdancy and proliferation by pointing out its underside or counter-narrative, blue, for Joy, directs us to the ecological possibilities of falling apart. She sees an orientation to depression, to “feeling blue,” as “a form of deeply empathic enmeshment with a world that suffers its own sea changes” (213). Such a “transcorporeal blue (and blues) ecology” would include “depression as a shared creative endeavor” (213), a collective affect that is “in the world, somehow, a type of weather or atmosphere, with the becoming-mad of the human mind only one of its many effects (a form of attunement to the world’s melancholy)” (214, her emphases). She argues that some material landscapes and literary texts are especially powerful sites of melancholic experience and/or that they bear material traces of the inexpressible loss, brokenness, and anguish of the world; the experience of prolonged, even incapacitating sadness in and among these sites has the potential to give rise to/tap into a profound sense of shared vulnerability and connection-in-dissolution, what Joy calls “a form of aesthetic (if sad) solidarity” (216, see also my “Losing My Place”). The idea that loss and grief may give rise to compassion is hardly new; the idea that feeling/seeing/reading blue might be a sensual, affective, ecological orientation in and to the world has not been, in what is, in the main, a pretty expansively green politics, quite as popular. I would argue that this blue ecological sensibility is also particularly amenable to a queer inflection, not least because it is part of the depathologization of negative affect in general that is integral to the works of queer theorists such as Ann Cvetkovich and J. Jack Halberstam. Both Cvetkovich and Halberstam argue that “queer negativity” takes issue not only with the institutions of heterosexuality (i.e. with the largely procreative, productivist infrastructure apparent in a world geared to marriage, families, and generational transmission and inheritance), but also with the emotional, temporal, and narrative modes of experiencing and storying life that accompany and sustain these institutions. For Cvetkovich, “negative feelings such as shame, failure, melancholy, and depression” are crucial to rethinking “categories such as utopia, hope, and happiness” (5), so that we can move toward—or, perhaps more precisely, linger with—forms of sociality, affiliation, time, and community that are not based, primarily, on a disavowal of the (dismal) present in favour of a future plenitude premised on the promise of new, clean (green) generations. For Halberstam, queer negativity, including states and relations of forgetfulness, passivity, and failure, interrupts “generational modes of transmission that ensure the continuity of ideas, family lines, and normativity itself” (123): “while failure certainly comes accompanied by a host of negative affects such as disappointment, disillusionment, and despair, it also provides the opportunity to use these negative affects to poke holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life” (3). Feeling/thinking/reading blue, here, is part of a constellation of resistant queer practices that affectively and politically interrupt a homonormative futurity oriented to green optimism: the practice is a cut against the grain of the prevalent move in mainstream LGBTQ politics toward such things as marriage rights; it is also a move toward thinking about queer subjectivities and materialities in relation to ecological thought that neither universalizes (ultimately, everything is queer) nor essentializes (only certain, clearly defined forms of living are queer) our embodied, political lives. The queer ecological shades of a blue affective constellation are not, of course, only about negativity (just as green is not only about positivity). Blue is the anti-pastoral ocean of Steve Mentz’s “blue cultural studies.” “Looking closely at the sea, rather than just the land,” he argues, “challenges established habits of thought” (997) such as the tendency to think of western imperialism as a history, primarily, of land enclosure, … ownership, and territorial expansion: “oceanic tropes, from the perils of shipwreck to the frustrations of navigation, can serve as powerful antidotes to pastoralism and other representations of landed stability” (1007). Blue is the desire for a blue rose. Although figured as perfect love, prosperity, and even immortality, blue roses are, like the desires they stand for, also impossible: they stubbornly refuse to exist either organically or technologically (the blue delphinidin used to try to insert the blue into hybridized ones is, cloned from pansies), and orient toward a queerly utopian, rather than reprofuturist, temporality (see Muñoz). Blue is also, more directly, a color of gender transgression. Famed queer aesthete Quentin Crisp (who came from, and archly rejected, the suburban sensibilities of South London) dyed his hair blue in 1948, welcoming into his body Picasso’s artistic “blue period” as part of a practice oriented to a making visible of the art/artifice of homosexuality in the midst of an increasingly respectable, heterosexual rendering of middle class life in the UK following World War II (Janes, “Famous for the Paint”). Jarman is especially articulate about queer possibilities of blue. The chapter in Chroma “Into the Blue” includes blue light (that brings the night with it), nude blue Pictish Britons, gun metal blue, blue language, royal blue robes, tight blue jeans, “the blue-tail fly that dances the blues in blue suede shoes” (103), and even the indigo that was once considered the dye of the Devil (105). The color is also especially poignant: blue is the “blue frost” of AIDS that caught so many of his friends by fatal surprise (109); “empty sky-blue” is the color of the after-image that the opthalmologist’s camera leaves after taking pictures of Jarman’s detaching retinas, destroyed by the ganciclovir he takes intravenously to control CMV (123)2; blue also “drags black with it” and is “darkness made visible” (114). In particular, blue is “an open door to the soul/An infinite possibility/Becoming tangible” (112): blue is thus the color that Jarman chooses to represent his experience of confronting the void of death in his final film, Blue. Blue consists of 72 minutes of unchanging ultramarine screen (citing Yves Klein’s monochrome painting IKB 79), accompanied by the voices of some of his favorite actors reading the text of “Into the Blue.” The blue on the screen defines a space of negativity and mourning as it reflects Jarman’s experience of illness and death; at the same time, however, it also produces an experience of great sensual intensity as the unremitting presence of the color comes to have a tangible, material, lively presence. Dying and liveliness, here, combine to produce blue: as Jarman writes in the last line of “Into the Blue” that is also the final words of the film, “I place a delphinium, Blue, upon your grave” (124), the bluest of blue flowers a memento mori that encapsulates the entwinement of life and death. Blue is, then, both living and dying. Blue is both opening and closing. Blue is memory and forgetting; blue is expansive generosity and deep mourning. Blue is desire and impossibility. Blue is sky and ocean, breathing and drowning. Blue is paradox. Blue is uncertainty. Blue is queer in the mode that Cvetkovich and Halberstam outline. But it is not only negative and, moreover, it not the opposite of green so much as it is a hue/affect/orientation/constellation that suggests forms of life, relationship, and temporality that are not eventually recuperable to neoliberal optimization, not a restful alibi for (or horrifying critique of) out-of-control productivity and reproductivity. But it suggests life, notwithstanding: obscure, uncertain, fleeting, shady, shattered, and limited, blue ecologies circulate around life that is full of holes in a world that needs to breathe. I think this blue ecology is worth lingering with simply because it is not green, because it constellates and aspires to a different kind of living. I also think it helps us understand a historical shift in queer ecological politics—and queer ecopoetics—from green to blue affective orientations, from green to blue aesthetics and politics, from green to blue desires, attachments, and forms of living together. I mean, here, to suggest—playfully, and also very seriously—that green and blue are at once affective, metaphoric, and material constellations that shade (and are shaded by) specific kinds of queer articulation and aspiration. Green is a metaphor, yes, but green is also, as Nardizzi’s brilliant Greener reading demonstrates, an ontological twining of photosynthetic with suburban desire. Blue is a figure, yes, but blue is also, as Joy’s beautiful blue essay embodies, a sensation that connects watery and melancholic temperaments in a way that is not only about a challenge to greenness, to positivity, to verdancy, but something chromatically, and queerly, quite different. Perhaps not unusually—theoretical articulation so often follows, rather than leads, poetic attention—I actually witnessed and identified this shift first through reading poetry, by experiencing the traces a not-yet-fully-articulable-to-me queer movement between a green and a blue constellation of words, images, and sensations as contained in the work of a single poet. Specifically, when I recently read Canadian poet Betsy Warland’s book Only This Blue (2005), I was struck by the sheer force of her invocations of color, the tangible chromatic presences of pink blossoms, red algae, a yellow van, and especially green language and blue possibility, in the unfolding of her long poem response to healing from cancer. I was led to re-read some of her earlier writing, specifically Open is Broken (1984)—a work that was very important to me when I was just beginning to find a lesbian voice—and found a richness of colorful articulation there, too, especially in her folding of lesbian language play with green utopian desire: a desire that she revisits, and from which she moves away, in the newer work. In what follows, then, I explore these two poetic works by Warland, written twenty years apart, in order to trace one, chromatic route of a lesbian/queer ecopoetic sensibility from the 1980s to the early 2000s. This sensibility begins with her attempt to “break open” a lesbian erotic poetry at the limits of (patriarchal, heteronormative, English) language in the 1980s in Open is Broken: here, Warland imagines an emergent, green tongue with which to explore lesbian sexuality, both literally and linguistically. More recently, in Only This Blue, she moves away from a poetics of lesbian fecundity into one of shattered corporeality: trying to relearn this green in the wake of a major illness and surgery, she moves eventually toward a blue response to her body—and to the spaces of the Vancouver in which she writes—articulating a poetics oriented to the eventual impossibility of speaking green. Her poetry, here, is blue, airborne, and oriented to a very different languaging of life. It is this new chromatic–poetic embodiment, I think, that underscores the importance of a blue ecological orientation to contemporary queer ecological politics and aesthetics: although there is always a queer possibility to green, Only This Blue shows powerfully that there is something about blue that orients a specifically queer ecopoetic sensibility. Open is Broken: “The Green Ladder” Betsy Warland emerged as a significant poet in the midst of 1970s/1980s radical lesbian and feminist politics. One of the initiators of the Toronto Women’s Writing Collective (1975–1981) and organizers of the important “Women and Words/Les femmes et les mots” conference in Vancouver in 1983,3Open is Broken, published in 1984, was her second book of poetry. The book is dedicated to her then-lover, poet Daphne Marlatt, and is very much a work of its time. Like the French feminism that was increasingly influential in North America during this period (especially after the appearance of the translated collection New French Feminisms in 1980), the book works toward a language to represent, create, and embody women’s experiences and emerging selves against a masculine symbolic–linguistic order in which women are, corporeally and linguistically, rendered (and rendered silent) according to male desires and laws. To this écriture féminine, as such writing was termed by Hélène Cixous in “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976), Warland explicitly adds an écriture lesbienne: a language of, for, and by lesbians, in order to represent lesbian experience, especially forms of lesbian sexuality that have been consigned to invisibility, and in order to give rise to forms of lesbian being not imaginable within current phallogocentric worlds. In the prose poem that opens the book, “untying the tongue,” Warland writes that her quest to break open heteropatriarchal language begins with her “realization that the English language tongue-ties me. this ‘restricted mobility’ was most apparent in my attempts to speak of my erotic life … is it taboo? TABOO: ‘ta, mark + bu, exceedingly.’ are women afraid to ‘mark’ the paper? Or as Hélène Cixous writes, ‘inscribe ourselves?’” (9).4 As she expands: the language itself does not reflect women’s sensual experiences. for most of us, however, it is… the only language we have. open is broken is about the words i abandon. ABANDON: “to put in one’s power…” so, when we abandon words, it … [is] a turning over of our power to those who keep them: speechless the consequence. (10)To turn away from masculine words for sex is also to abandon the experience it evokes: how, then, does a lesbian have a relationship to “surrender” that neither accepts its patriarchal meaning of renouncing ownership nor denies the sexual heat of its pull as a word, the only one we have? Warland turns to usage: “women have been DISMEMBERED: ’dis- (removal) + membrum, member’ from the word. in tracing words back, i have found that etymology nearly always re-members the feminine sensibility of our inner landscapes.… abandoned words spring up from deep places, claiming our eroticism reclaims the dismembered” (10–11). The task, then, for the new women/lesbian writer is to be “a new kind of inhabitant of language, … on that double edge where she has always lived, between the already spoken and the unspeakable, sense and non-sense, only now she writes it, risking nonsense, chaotic language leafings.… inside language she leaps for joy, shoving out the walls of taboo and propriety, … discovering life in old roots” (12). Open is Broken begins, in the section “induction,” with etymological play: showing our “sexts” in between the lines and words of patriarchal language, our mothertongue “pre-texts,” our corporeal tonguetexts, scentexts, vortexts, our “inhertextualities” (13–15). It then moves, in the second section, to create space for lesbian wor(l)ds to come “up from under” to name our own wild territories. Some directly attempt new bodily vocabularies for our relationships, “rapping knuckles on/hollow casting/[to] sing[] out desire/back/and forth”(20); others describe, intimately, specific moments of encounter between two women (sometimes in the second person) in a move—often phrased as a question—to capture something in the moment that might pierce through language toward understanding: “can i tell of the tenderness? how she sleeps/her cheek on my private pillow/body within my leg’s embrace” (27). These poems exhort us to lose and rediscover ourselves in erotic forms of awareness that draw us in and propel into a new language, speaking of primal erotic experiences that are not, after all, extinguished: now, when i hold you in my mouth i sing music known only within the chambers of our bodies sound before the warp of worlds certain birds are not taught their song know it without having heard it sung (22)Here, the energies that emerge in the encounter between body and word are also part of the book’s erotics: the poetry does not simply represent lesbian sexuality, it is an integral part of it. Words become entangled with flesh; poetry is part of a process of corporeal exploration; words are body fluids, shared in intimate exchanges that break open selves, language, and bodies together: … in flat light of broken boundaries bumped into furniture into each other before you became           pinpoint of intensity           planet of light within theatre black hole as you read love poems to me (31) The third section of the book, “open is broken,” is a long poem in nineteen sections that draws us more slowly through a process of lesbian linguistic/erotic becoming: shattering convention, emerging in infancy, exploring new forms of embodiment and language, developing a syntax, discovering a new terrain, finding a poetry, untying a tongue for and beyond pages that move and throb with change, “a radiant throat in your hands”: “lungs fisting the air amulet against …/you could stop reading/but the pulse in your hands has led you here” (52). It begins with an egg, broken open, yolk and white skinless and vulnerable: “an eye with no mind” (35); But “words like moon and egg/words that did not startle” are too trustworthy in the face of chthonic lesbian desire: she is “pulled into a whirlpool/claim, surrender, sow, manure flying out/… words from another place, old place, vaguely remembered” (42). As the poem moves toward an écriture lesbienne, it is powered simultaneously by concerted language work—especially by a helical sense of etymological return, and return, toward an original, more feminine vocabulary—and by a forcefully sexual lesbian desire that works to explode the relationship between received word and emergent world, creating larger and larger spaces for that language to emerge. The dialectical force of this movement inheres especially in the tongue, which learns to speak fluently the syntax of the skin, claiming the desiring body in/as a new idiom: the code broken by your fluency fluent: “soft, wet, naked, exposed” you part the covers          to set free urged by your fluency: “to swell up, well up, overflow” our fluids spout out hot gold             rivulets punctuating ecstasy (43) For our purposes in this article, I note one additional, interesting feature: Warland consistently depicts the chthonic eroticism of lesbian sexuality as green, and develops the color with precisely the sense of organic, arboreal, verdancy and proliferation that elsewhere binds it to a more obviously reproductive futurity. Clearly, Warland’s green is not that of a suburban front lawn: its utopian project voices green in a specifically lesbian register, in fact retrieving abundance and flourishing from their ideological embeddedness in heteropatriarchal sexuality and language. There is “something,” she writes, “in the garden not present before” (35): opened, the green landscape reveals possibilities for lesbian sexuality and identity that are strangled and silenced in heteropatriarchal language. What Warland creates, then, is a lesbian ecopoetics: a tracing of organic possibility, through lesbian erotic experience and languaging, into a newly and differently green understanding of the relations between body, word, and world. The central poem in this green rearticulation (III) describes the experience of orgasm as a coming (literally) to the top of a tree. Playing with a Greek origin of leaf in lepein (to peel off) as well as with the leaf of Old English (involving both plants and papers), and with the double dynamic of breaking and opening that characterizes her vision of lesbian language and experience, Warland writes that “the leaves witness you unsheathing me” (37). Here, both the leaves of the tree and the leaves of the paper on which the words are written are imprinted with the budding (another leaf, here a verb) of sexual arousal: in front of a window full of green eyes we climb the green ladder: “clitoris, incline, climax” on the tip of your tongue you flick me leaf: “lift” up to tip tree top (37) Green eyes, green ladder: in a community of green, the resinous fluids of desire flow up to the “roof of the world,” toward fullness, toward turgidity, toward an arboreal lesbian, orgasmic, flourishing. And after, as the leaves fall and sink into rich, dark compost, they “leave us in our/beththrothal: ‘truth, tree’” (37): orgasm becomes the organic foundation of a new truth, a truth that is also a promise (betrothal) of a future, green ability to speak with “my resin on your swollen lips” (37).5 The rich humus of lesbian sexuality becomes, in the end, the fertile medium in which lesbian identity grows: “between your legs/home soil, native soil/land things grow, flourish, thrive in” (47). Below the soil’s heteropatriarchal verb—“to make dirty, defile, pollute with sin” (46)—is the base material of the noun’s organic possibility: “top layer of the earth’s surface, land, country” (47). This country is to be found in “the place where we touch and taste each other” (50); this “found/ation” (47) begins the language of lesbian desire, identity, and inhabitation. Or, as Warland writes in a poem closer to the beginning of the book, this country is also a place, subversively reinhabited: this park is not a square is triangle of Aphrodite, mound of Venus claiming herself a symbol of our fecundity … a man on a bicycle careens by shouts “this park is dangerous you know!”               we know he doesn’t realize the why has changed (21) The green, sensual articulation of lesbian eroticism and language in Open is Broken seems, when I read it more than thirty years after its publication, almost impossibly exuberant. Even at the time, it was a utopian poetics: an invitation to the tongue to aspire toward new forms of lesbian language, an intensely corporeal practice of queer poetic imagination. Don’t get me wrong: I love this book, the twinning of exuberance and lesbian desire against reproductive futurism, the sheer fun of it. However, despite Warland’s gorgeous rendering of erotic and poetic possibility, in the intervening years, lesbian poetics and politics have taken a number of decided turns away from this lush orientation, and from a dream of a language or practice that could, somehow, conjure a collective lesbian experience from corporeal experience (for the record, I do not reject lushness: it is just more complicated, now). For one thing, the identity “lesbian” has proved to be multiple, amorphous, historically contextual, and very much divided along lines of race, class, and politics: there is no common language, and lesbian feminism’s political aspiration toward autonomous institutions and practices without sufficient attention to other, intersecting forms of oppression and silencing created serious problems, even despite the influence of Black lesbians such as Audre Lorde.6 In addition, although it is most certainly the case that not all lesbian feminists were or are transphobic, attachment to organicist understandings of women’s corporealities, languages, and identities created conditions that were very hostile to trans and genderqueer people: the idea that “womyn-born-womyn” have a particular collective experience distinct from that of trans women showed the real limits of this lesbian sexual identity politics.7 Finally, lesbian feminism lost much of its political edge as lesbian and gay identities moved toward the mainstream: being a lesbian was no longer an act of corporeal defiance against patriarchal capitalism, but increasingly a “lifestyle choice” that does not necessarily carry a larger, socially transformative agenda (see Stein, “Sisters and Queers”). The vexedness of a lush, green, erotic language for lesbian bodies and identities is also, however, related to the violent disruption and realignment of the relationship between sexual pleasure and politics inaugurated by AIDS. Open is Broken was published in 1984; the first official medical reporting of the unknown disease that came to be known as HIV/AIDS was in 1981, the term AIDS was coined in 1982, and by the end of 1984 nearly 4,000 people (in the US alone), the vast number of whom were gay men, had died of the disease, often in horrible conditions (from that point, the number increased exponentially until the development of effective anti-retroviral drugs in the 1990s). Although, for obvious reasons, lesbian feminists had not easily allied themselves politically with gay men, many lesbians had strong ties to gay male communities and politics, and the AIDS crisis created conditions for new forms of relationship and political affinity as lesbians played an important role in providing care, friendship, and advocacy for sick and dying men in the context of hostile, homophobic, and AIDS-phobic families of origin, medical institutions, and social/political relations.8 (AIDS Action Now! And ACT-UP also included many lesbians in leadership roles.) Sex-positive liberationist politics were dramatically disrupted (although differently for gay men than for lesbians); a sense of corporeal fragility and uncertainty came to haunt many gay and lesbian literary works—as exemplified by Jarman’s Chroma—and, although utopian dimensions have never been erased from LGBTQ aesthetics (see Muñoz, Halberstam), an uncritically exuberant articulation of sex with abundance was, and is, simply no longer conceivable.9 Only This Blue The emergence of a publicly-claimed “queer” orientation to theory and activism in the 1990s, not surprisingly, carried with it a strong sense of death even as it renewed a movement toward radical, transformative possibility for lesbian and gay politics. Where the mainstream LGBT movement was (and is) increasingly focused on pursuing a more assimilationist civil and marriage rights agenda (which Lisa Duggan has aptly named homonormativity), many queer thinkers have chosen to rally around negativity, in different ways, as a critical response to the ascendance of neoliberal hyper-productivity. In this view, abundance comes to be tainted not just with heteronormativity but also with a sense of metastasis (rather like Moore’s Metamorphizered grass): seen through a critical, queer lens, reproductive futurity is twinned with a specifically neoliberal, capitalist metabolism bent on the endless proliferation of a profitized mode of living. Far from being a descent into anti-ecological nihilism (see Garrard, “How Queer is Green?”), queer theory (and queer ecology in particular) signals a recognition of the ways in which queer politics might respond to the multiple forms of death that are part of our current ecological, biopolitical, condition. This negativity is part of the affective universe of AIDS; it is also a thoughtful turn aside from an identity politics that attempts to move directly toward fullness, completion, and fruition in a context where identities are more likely experienced and recognized as partial, contextual, fluid, performative, and precarious: in which sex can’t be understood apart from race and gender; in which affinities are produced in complicated situ. It is a response, in addition, to the death that permeates neoliberal productivism, and that serves as its limit. Death created, from lesbian and gay politics, queer bedfellows during the height of the AIDS movement; a continued focus on death, failure, woundedness, relationality, and negativity in queer theory, aesthetics, and politics suggests openness to forms of loss, shared vulnerability, and affinity that were not as possible in earlier, more verdantly utopian, political moments, and that challenge more current body/language relations.10 Here, in addition to critical queer uptakes of green such as Jarman’s, we find the emerging blueness of queer ecologies (and, vice versa, the queerness of blue ecologies): blue is worldly depression, not the cruel optimism of neoliberal fantasy (Berlant, Cruel Optimism). Blue is the compassion that derives from loss, and the networks of care that may spring from the experience: not hearty, organic, muscular, progressive solidarity. Blue is a recognition of fragility, vulnerability, and precarious, ecological enmeshedness in the world. Blue is a political form that does not rush to positivity, but instead lingers in critique for long enough to question the necessity and temporality of growth and expansion. Blue is desire and its limits. Blue is uncertainty. Blue is negativity (but not apocalypticism). Blue is fragility, a move toward dispersion in breath, in the sky, rather than a solid identity, grounded in the earth. Betsy Warland’s Only This Blue carries this blue, queer ecological affect, both because it is a work that speaks in and to this new milieu, and also because it bears the weight and mortality of her own experience of breast cancer.11 Like Jarman’s Chroma, it is a journey through color that explores the different tints and textures of white, green, red, yellow, and blue relationships; unlike Chroma, it is a single narrative that clearly moves from green to blue as Warland renegotiates her experience of her body, and of her body’s relationship to place, as she heals in the wake of a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.12 The poem begins in a technician’s office, in the black and white glow of an ultrasound machine monitor: “she makes writing motions on my skin/searchers for density and shape” (7). Immediately, we are immersed in a body/language poetics that is very different from the one propelling the utopian untying of tongues in Open is Broken: here, the writing on/in the body traces the ghosts of tumors in among the “roiling boil/of normalcy” (7) and, as the poem continues, we are drawn, with Warland, into a process of healing that has no choice but to encircle the ghosts, to embrace the absence of her breasts, and to attend to the holes in the language and landscape that become apparent to her as she moves, and writes, into remission. (Even the layout of the poem invokes these spectral presences/absences: the poem runs for nearly 100 pages, with the left page of each pair left blank and the white spaces on many of the right ones larger than the printed lines.) Initially, Warland attempts to reinsert herself into a language and practice of rebirth and renewal: spring, planting, burgeoning anew from expectant “seeds bulbs roots wrapped in/endless earth night” (11). As she writes, she is “learning green” (11), coaxing her body into verdancy by the performance of growth: i have taken to wearing          green my hairless head a shy perseverant shoot (11) But the “earnest green” (13) performance is exhausting, and a green language in which to speak to her healing is unattainable: language of green ever in between        bud & bough earth & sky who could ever speak           green? (15) As she moves through a Vancouver springtime filled with pink cherry blossoms (which, like little blood spots, interrupt the green of the grass) and other encounters with color in the world around her—a boy throwing a soccer ball “blue-sky ward” (13), a frightening corner store robbery involving a white bag and a yellow van (19)—she wants to recognize herself in her body, and in the place that brings her body back to her visually, relationally, and kinaesthetically. Like the story of someone who took her children to see where she grew up and found “the address was right but/the house torn down/, creek filled in,” she “seeks reassurance even in/familiar flaws” (23) but finds herself a stranger in the midst of a perceptual bodyworld that has irrevocably changed. She surprises herself: she runs for the bus and is amazed with the ease with which she can do so, “this is me/before/i had breasts” (25). She notices that she is: an unknown season a-rhythmical    , differently balanced with things cut out       & off (31) And she finds it hard to locate a language with which to grasp her “unspeakable sensations/of never the same” (33): the words falter on the page, a small voice in relation to large, surrounding, blank spaces of silences and lacunae. Very differently from Open is Broken, in which the quest to find a new language for unspoken/unspeakable experience is part of a wonderful lesbian greening move toward linguistic and corporeal plenitude, in this new experience of healing around loss she finds that “i flail/in a sea of newgreen” (29): the intimacy of words and bodies that she describes, here, is uncertain and interrogative rather than fulsome and declarative, and she wonders about the possibility of intimacy itself as a linguistic or relational aspiration:      will you, green? i lie next to these poems i lie next to you      , intimacy contingent (39) Especially when following the question—“will you, green?”—that begins the page, as if green were a lover from whom she demands a response, the breaths of the enjambments open space for hesitation and inconclusion. The contrast to Open is Broken could not be more palpable. Where, in the earlier work, green playfully colors utopian arousal, orgasm, and fulfilment, in this stanza green is a questioning horizon without a tangible end. It is a demand that neither the poetry nor the intimate “you” can satisfy; it is an invitation to a futurity in which the body, and the language of the body, are open questions rather than seeds of possibility lying dormant, but fully potential, in the present. Perhaps not surprisingly, Warland’s chromatic journey through her healing process leads her toward a form of ecological open-endedness that moves her away from green desires. She is open to the landscape of Vancouver and its changing colors and textures through the seasons of her writing, revealing her bodily enmeshedness; she is opened by carcinogens, surgery, and other intrusions, revealing her bodily precariousness. Acknowledging the openness of her body to the “pathology of oil by-products” (47), she dreams of cutting open (a kitchen knife with a “cedar-green handle” [51]) and writes of veins (red and blue) open to chemotherapeutic cocktails. But this opening does not create space for a new, green whole: instead of a green climax there is a crow who “caws/at/—muscularity of green—” (57), mocking the “yes of green” (51) even as it blinks to her from traffic lights and camera shutters. What she begins to see are the openings between the green of leaves and blades, spaces that give each one individual shape and definition. She notes the porosity of the body as it heals, the between-ness that is skin, and the fact that the lively “greed & grace & gulp of green” (81) is only possible when enabled by other colors and intensities. Yellow comes to her in the “flashing signature” (81) of birds; “to dare yellow …/yell, Oh!” (85) is to crack open the green and reveal the primary blue that informs and permeates it. Blue is “ocean-soft summer twilight” and “azure darkening” (99); “blue observes all colours/reflects all colours/hearts the flame” (97). Blue is the pause between words, between leaves, between pages, between bodies. Blue is the journey, not the conclusion. Blue is remission, not recovery. As if to emphasize the difference between a green and a blue telos, Warland repeats and revises an image from Open is Broken near the end of Only This Blue: “come see the moon!”13 Where, in the earlier poem, the words are spoken by a desiring lover who beckons her toward “tongues bloom blooming” (36), in the latter, the words belong to a stranger walking the seawall, and include a crucial qualifier: “Come see the moon. It’s free!” (99). Warland repeats the phrase, and emphasizes it: “Come see the moon/It’s free!” (101): free of attachment to a narrative of desire and plenitude, free of answers, free of closure. As she writes in the final stanza: to not be afraid when there is every reason to fear       – we know what we must do – there is no outcome           only this blue (103) In their work on breast cancer and queer temporalities, Jackie Stacey and Mary Bryson write that “cancer survivorship is a statement in the present prefect (of having survived) that speaks a desire for the future that it knows is uncertain (when does remission become survival?)” (5). Specifically, they argue that cancer inserts into linear, normative life narratives “a more haphazard mix, deflecting us from any sense of life’s proper path” (6). In particular, cancer warps heteronormative temporalities of sequential continuity and “geneaological histories of kinship and relatedness, … of the narrational flows of personal biography” (6–7). Warland’s experience of breast cancer, and of her always uncertain and provisional healing around a kernel of loss/absence/death and toward the blue of open-endedness, is clearly aligned with this queer analysis. Only This Blue shows powerfully that an understanding of bodies, lifespans, and generations as continuous and progressive is a normative, dangerous fiction, that life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and AIDS offer a dramatic glimpse of the limits of this fiction, and that such experiences of temporal and corporeal disturbance can pull toward a larger queer orientation to blue affects and ecologies: to a powerful awareness of precariousness and enmeshedment, to a dwelling in the present, and to a critical perspective on heteronormative time’s “false promise of … the predictability of the future” (Stacey and Bryson, 15). This apprehension of the contingent body embroiled in space, time, and relationships (some of which are carcinogenic) is key to a queer ecology oriented toward interrupting the metastasizing narrative of endless growth, verdancy, and neoliberal progress that is tied to heteronormative temporalities and futurities. Where green so often dwells in the generativity of this reproductive register, where we need to go instead is into this blue. In the lyric essay “Nose to Nose” that acts as a reflective epilogue to Only This Blue, Warland reflects on the relationship between poetry and the material world, and between language and silence: “at poem’s base is the depth of our unknowing. At its crest is our knowing. In the movement between—poem’s urgent momentum” (105). Queer ecopoetry takes up this urgent momentum and turns it to an understanding of the intricacy and fragility of lives and relationships, revealing an ecology of bodies and worlds that share the blue present, and languaging that present as an open-ended journey rather than a trip along a known trajectory of enrichment. Implicitly comparing her own survival to that of species, she suggests that living is more about the ability to incorporate change and uncertainty than it is about the fitness of predefined capacities. Moreover, she argues that poetry is that survival. A queer blue ecology, then, would do well to remember Warland’s words: “poetry is change in the act of. Like beauty, its fluidity surprises and transforms us. As with species’ survival, poem embodies resilient inventiveness” (110). Footnotes 1 My thanks to the special issue editors and two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. 2 Ganciclovir (DHPG) was commonly prescribed to control CMV (cytomegalovirus) retinitis, one of the most common opportunistic infections experienced by people with AIDS before the advent of current antiretroviral treatments. The drug has many serious effects, including leukemia, haemorrhage, and, as in Jarman’s case, retinal detachment. 3 The 1000-participant conference included both emerging and established women writers, editors, publishers, educators and organizers; it was a project of the West Coast Women and Word Society, whose mandate was to support women writers by organizing readings, workshops, anthologies, and opportunities for mentoring. Although the society formally ended in 1998, Warland has continued to take this mandate very seriously: she was the founding organizer and inaugural Director of the Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and continues to be much sought after as a teacher and mentor. 4 In all of the poems by Warland quoted in the rest of the paper, all punctuation, capitalization, italicization, and spacing are in the original. 5 The double meaning of “lips” (referring both to facial and labial ones) is not, of course, unique to this poem, just as Warland’s exploration of the relations between language and sexuality in Open is Broken is part of a larger current of lesbian and feminist lingua-corporeal exploration. See Irigaray: “If we don’t invent a language, if we don’t find our body’s language, its gestures will be too few to accompany our story” (76). 6 Lorde’s beautiful essay “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power” (to which Warland refers) also considers the erotic as a generative force for lesbians, and something to be liberated from white, male power relations: “Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama” (59). Open is Broken, however, draws a connection much more specifically to French feminist language/body politics, and does not consider that there might be other language/power/body dynamics that lesbian feminism might need to break open. White, middle class privileging of sex over other power relations has been a problem for more than just lesbian feminism. 7 One of the most infamous moments in this relationship concerned a 1991 incident at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in which a trans woman was asked by organizers to leave, on the basis that the festival was intended for “womyn-born-womyn.” The division between trans and “womyn-born” women polarized the Festival until its demise in 2015. 8 The complicated political relationship between lesbians and gay men in the midst of changing civil rights, gay liberationist, lesbian feminist, and LGBTQ agendas is a much larger topic than this article can address (again, see Stein, “Sisters and Queers”). There is no question, however, that the AIDS crisis helped to shape a dramatic rearticulation of LGBT political community. 9 For specifically ecocritical readings of AIDS-related literatures, see Hogan, “Queer Green Apocalypse” and Sandilands, “Mourning Nature.” Again, I do not think queer ecological erotic abundance is impossible (see Stephens and Sprinkle); I do think it is now, if it wasn’t always, already haunted. 10 Conversations about queer theoretical negativity often circulate around the Lee Edelman’s powerful text No Future, which has provoked a cascade of responses too large to summarize here (although Muñoz, Halberstam, and Cvetkovich are three of them). For specifically ecocritical responses to Edelman, see Anderson, “Warm Blood” and Seymour, Strange Natures. This article does not directly engage Edelman: that ground is very thoroughly covered already. 11 Warland also explores the textures of loss in Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (2000), a long lyric prose/poem that explores her complicated relationship to her mother throughout her dying. 12 She only refers in passing to the surgery—“this is me / before / I had breasts” (25)—and the chemotherapy—“my hairless head a shy / perseverant shoot” (11)—as her focus is not on the medical experience but rather on the process of healing. 13 There is another interesting allusion to the earlier poem in the image of a robin perched “at the top of the top-most tree,” thinking nothing but to sing “light out … / dark in” (27). At the top of the tree-green ladder, there is ultimately more birdsong than lesbian language. Works Cited Anderson Jill. “‘Warm Blood and Live Semen and Rich Marrow and Wholesome Flesh!’: A Queer Ecological Reading of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man.” Journal of Ecocriticism  3. 1 ( 2011): 51– 66. Berlant Lauren. Cruel Optimism . Duke UP, 2011. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cixous Hélène, Cohen Keith, Cohen Paula. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs  1. 4 ( 1976): 875– 93. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cohen Jeffrey Jerome, ed. “Introduction.” Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green . U of Minnesota P, 2013. xv– xxxv. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cvetkovich Ann. Depression: A Public Feeling . Duke UP, 2012. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Duggan Lisa. “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics . Ed. Castronovo Russ, Nelson Dana, Duke UP, 2002. Edelman Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive . Duke UP, 2004. 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Sandilands Catriona.. ”Losing My Place: Landscapes of Depression.” Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief . Ed. Cunsolo Ashlee, Landman Karen, McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017. Sandilands Catriona.. “Melancholy Natures, Queer Ecologies.” Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire . Ed. Sandilands Catriona, Erickson Bruce. Indiana UP, 2010. 331– 58. Seymour Nicole. Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination . U of Illinois P, 2013. Stacey Jackie, Bryson Mary. “Queering the Temporality of Cancer Survivorship.” Aporia  4. 1 ( 2012): 5– 17. Stein Arlene. “Sisters and Queers: The Decentering of Lesbian Feminism.” Shameless: Sexual Dissidence in American Culture . New York U, 2006. 84– 102. Stephens Elizabeth, Sprinkle Annie. Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story . Alive Minds/Kino Lorber, 2014. Film. Warland Betsy. Only This Blue: A Long Poem with an Essay . The Mercury Press, 2005. Warland Betsy.. Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss . Second Story Press, 2000. Warland Betsy.. Open is Broken . Longspoon Press, 1984. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and EnvironmentOxford University Press

Published: Apr 6, 2018

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