This is the third in a series of interviews with several of the expert table facilitators at EcoLogic’s 2014 fall benefit, Turning the Tables: Living Within Natural Limits. This dinner party with a twist will take place on October 23. To learn more and purchase your seat at the table, check out our event page here!
Dr. Patrick Barron explores the dialogue of nature and culture in environmental thought and writing in his own poetry and in translations of Italy’s literature of the earth. He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He has received the Rome Prize, a Fulbright, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant for his translations of the work of Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto. His books include Italian Environmental Literature: An Anthology (2003) and The Selected Poetry and Prose of Andrea Zanzotto (2007). His poetry, essays, and translations are included in in journals such as Poetry East, Ecopoetics, Two Lines, and The Argotist Online.
Tell us a bit about your background. What experience do you have that’s connected to Poetry and Ecology?
As an undergraduate student, I worked as an outdoor activity leader with children while I studied environmental literature—that was the beginning of my interest. That grew in later years when I lived in Belfast, Ireland for two years, where I studied Irish poetry at Queen’s University. From Ireland, I moved to Italy, where I lived for five years. I worked with children there as well—at outdoor camps during the summer, and teaching English during the school year in Ferrara. Then, after spending a year in the Netherlands, I began my doctoral work in environmental literature, while simultaneously getting a master’s degree in cultural geology. I now translate Italian poetry and literature to English, and I write poems, non-fiction, and short stories, and edit collections of essays and poems. A recent book that I edited, Terrain Vague: Interstices at the Edge of the Pale, is a collection of essays that explore the ambiguous spaces of the city—the places that exist outside the cultural, social, and economic circuits of urban life.
Where do you think the root of your passions for literature, language, and nature come from?
When I was young, I always kept a small journal, which developed over time as I kept writing throughout my childhood. Going to Ireland had a huge impact on me, especially since it was the first time I had ever left the US. In Ireland, I discovered a passion for texts read aloud. I noticed many people there seemed to have a longer attention span for listening to poetry. Hearing poetry read aloud to an attentive and involved audience really struck me.
After that, learning Italian and reading Italian literature contributed to my interest in language in general. This led to my co-editing and translating an anthology of Italian environmental literature. The musicality of language, listening to people speak, different cadences—I began to be more observant of all these things. At this time I also began to become more interested in the poetry of Andrea Zanzotto, whose work I have since translated. Trips to his native region of the Veneto in northern Italy helped me understand more subtle aspects of both his use of language and reference to place.
Another root is my first son’s birth, which caused my life to slow down and helped me to see the world differently.
What are some of your current projects?
I am translating a book by Italian writer Gianni Celati, Towards the River’s Mouth. I am working on essays on the Lorine Niedecker, a contemporary American poet from Wisconsin who died in 1970, and the Roman artist Giosetta Fioroni, whose work I encountered thanks to Zanzotto. I also am revising two collections of poetry that I have written over the past few years.
In your opinion, how do you think EcoLogic can make a difference in the world?
EcoLogic is bringing cultural groups together and using community-based initiatives to promote conservation. I think this is similar in a sense to my time as an outdoor educator with young students: working locally and multi-generationally, and bridging cultural, political, and age gaps to come to a solution. Opening these boundaries in general is very important, and working with marginalized groups is vital—and is one of my interests.
What is the number one thing you would like the people sitting at your table to walk away with at the end of the night?
A sense of shared purpose, community, and conviviality! I would like to explore the ways in which we can tune in to intense observations of the world that can render us more open to it, free us from familiar codes of conduct, and open oneself to what we don’t understand. Concentrated forms of literature, especially poetry, require intense observation of the environment, both as human and non-human reality.