Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Pastoral/Anti-Pastoral

by lizard

At the beginning of this month, on July 4th actually, a poet friend I hadn’t seen in years blew through town on a treasure hunt.

We talked for as long as my kids allowed us, filling in the years. My friend, in discussing his own recent work with translations, described a dampening effect on his tendency toward the anti-pastoral, a dominant theme of his early verse.

Since that delightful encounter I’ve been tinkering with a poem, but it’s a rather cliche rendering of the anti-pastoral I’d like to flee, but can’t. To soften that, I recently picked up a book of poems by Gary Soto, titled a simple plan (Chronicle Books, 2007).

This week’s poetry post, because of neglect, is a twofer: Pastoral/Anti-Pastoral. Enjoy.



The tumbleweed gathers up rumors
And rolls out of town. Yanked-up roots are piled beyond the barn,
And even now a fly with octagonal eyes
Is sipping coolant pooled under the tractor.

“Mr. Goto,” my father-in-law tells me in the yard,
“The doctor said he needed more exercise.
He got a bike.”

Stars squeeze their icy light,
A June bug hisses on the screen door,
And a family of possums wades in the cistern.
Far east, clouds are throwing lightning on some poor devil.

“Yeah, Mr. Goto, had 40 acres of walnuts,”
My father-in-law says. Red coal of his cigarette
In the dark, a pause for the chickens to stop their mad fluttering.
“He got run over last week. I don’t know about his bike.”

Mid-May. The irrigated cotton rows lit with moonlight.
Three months, and the heat will bring us inside.
For now, we take to the road on bikes,
The Buddhist wheels spinning front and back.

—Gary Soto



the anti-pastoral
cannot be reversed
by our backyard garden

urban chickens
in a $500 dollar coop (bought online)
their glorious poop
and bug hunting efficiency
cannot erase what awaits us in the grocery store

where Ginsberg once chased Whitman’s ass
along the precipice
Amerika built
in arrogant disregard of basic natural laws
like gravity

the anti-pastoral, says Arlo, means
there’s no returning to the milk farm
without Walmart lurking somewhere

between the blades
of grass

but Farmer’s Market!
but Facebook campaigns against GMO’s!

alas, I wear a hipster hat I found at the ironic playground
and sip a locally crafted beer
sitting on the sandy bank of the Blackfoot
contemplating the dead-end
of our culture

yes, there is no going back to the milk farm
but there is no reason why
intentional communities can’t thrive
inside big box stores

the crisis of us killing our home
traces its poisonous bloom
to a crisis of imagination
a slow divorce of mind from body

which explains
our constant search
for reconnection

even though I know
there is more than enough hipster irony
to feed tomorrow’s anti-pastoral

I’m going to wade
into the jolting cold
of the Blackfoot river
and let its currents
pull my floating body
toward a deep back-eddy
where full submersion
will kill the sound of cars

blasting down highway 200
like there’s no tomorrow

—William Skink

  1. pastoral/anti-pastoral, don’t matter to me, i just like the scenery, i’m along for the ride, you guys drive. it just feels good to be outside.

  2. Big Johansson

    RIP JJ Cale.

  3. JC

    How about some post-pastoral?

    Came across a great essay, “Pastoral, Anti-Pastoral and Post-Pastoral as Reading Strategies” by Terry Gifford as I was thinking about your blog entry today:

    “If our ‘art itself is nature’, post-pastoral literature might be seen as nature’s way of offering us imaginative challenges to conceptions that are leading to our extinction. Each of the six features of post-pastoral literature is a field of urgently needed exploration, raising key questions that are engaged by contemporary science, environmental ethics and cultural geography, for example. Post-pastoral writing provides a mode for integrating and questioning these enquiries in a holistic ‘stretching of our notions of humanity.’ Such writing might be able to nudge us into some ways of answering the most crucial question of our time: what is the right relationship by which people and planet can live together?

    But first, the obvious challenge to the contemporary reader of literature that refers to nature in whatever form is to distinguish between the pastoral, the anti-pastoral, and the post-pastoral. Such a reading strategy will help the reader to consider which writing is likely to raise the most useful questions for our time.”

    Gifford offers up Gary Snyder as a fine example of post-pastoral poet:

    Ripples on the Surface
    Gary Snyder, in “No Nature: New and Selected Poems” (1993)

    “Ripples on the surface of water
    were silver salmon passing under—different
    from the sorts of ripples caused by breezes”

    A scudding plume on the wave—
    a humpback whale is
    breaking out in air up
    gulping herring
    —Nature not a book, but a performance, a
    high old culture.

    Ever-fresh events
    scraped out, rubbed out, and used, used, again—
    the braided channels of the rivers
    hidden under fields of grass—

    The vast wild
    the house, alone.
    the little house in the wild,
    the wild in the house.

    both forgotten.

    No nature.

    Both together, one big empty house.”


    Thanks for the poetic excursion, Liz!

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Pastoral/Anti-Pastoral […]

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