Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lee Belhman

Committee Member

Jeffrey Gonzalez

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka


In this paper, I seek to highlight the benefits and necessity of reframing our critical approach to ecopoetry. In order to do so, I attempt to define “ecopoetry,” as well as terms like “nonhuman animal” and “anthropocentrism.” Historically, critics have routinely romanticized the nonhuman natural world, rendering it something two-dimensional, like a painting or landscape, rather than an encompassing environment. As a result, critics have often failed to consider the legitimacy of the animals who populate the nonhuman natural world. Instead, these animals are typically romanticized and metaphorized, ultimately furthering anthropocentric hierarchies and distancing us from them. When anthropocentric thought is perpetuated to such an extent, and rigid boundaries are created between humans and other animals, we are ultimately hindering the goals of environmentalism and the fight against the climate crisis. The guiding questions I respond to in this paper are, 1) How do contemporary American ecopoems demonstrate environmentalism?, 2) What insights or advantages can we gain by de-metaphorizing nonhuman animals in our criticism of ecopoetry?, and 3) Are we truly being “environmentalist” if we are failing to consider nonhuman animals? To answer these questions, I use critical animal theorists’ works to support or develop my own. I focus primarily on contemporary ecopoetry, referring to poets such as Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Rae Armantrout, and Ralph Black, and examining the way they approach environmentalism in their poetry. In order to establish the faults of outdated criticism, and the subsequent need to reframe our approach to ecopoetry, I will also refer to several early to mid nineteenth-century poems, by authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, and William Blake. Ultimately, this paper argues that reframing our criticism of contemporary ecopoetry, to include more thoughtful, non-metaphorized analyses of nonhuman animals, is essential in closing the gap between us and them—something we must do for the greater environmentalist cause.

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