Enaiê Mairê Azambuja (University of London)


Born in Curitiba, Brazil, Enaiê Mairê Azambuja is Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. She has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Surrey with a thesis entitled “Cosmological Imaginations: Zen and material ecopoetics in William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and E. E. Cummings”. This doctoral project, funded by the AHRC TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership, was a study of the impact of Zen on twentieth-century American poetry and its contribution to debates on material ecocriticism and current definitions of ecopoetics. Her first book The Zen of Ecopoetics: Cosmological Imaginations in Modernist American Poetry is forthcoming with Routledge Environmental Literature, Culture and Media series (2024). Her research and teaching interests are ecocriticism and ecopoetics, Modernist poetry, intersections of literary and religious studies, and creative writing. She tweets as @enaie_maire


The Zen-Inflected Apophatic Ecopoetics of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and E. E. Cummings

This paper analyses the use of negative language and silence in the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and E. E. Cummings. It explores the cultural affinities and resonances of their poetics with Zen philosophy and aesthetics, particularly through the technique of ‘not-naming’, which opposes forcing things into intellectualised categories. Instead of a cataphatic (affirmative) artistic impulse to name the visible world, their Zen-inflected apophatic poetics observes its own limits and the limits of our perception, cultivating an articulate silence about that which is ineffable. Although, such a poetics has evolved in consonance with the modern crisis of language and representation, it assumes new forms and takes on new meanings once it engages with the environmental crisis, since poets not only have to acknowledge the limits of language but also the limits of their own awareness of more-than-human realities. A new form of environmental experience arises from attempting to say ‘what cannot be said’, in the development of a poetics of environmental resonance that contemplates our planetary entanglement with more-than-human beings and environments. Williams employs the Zen technique of ‘not-naming’ to develop his theory of the imagination in Spring and All. By refusing to name the relationship between poetic imagination and material reality, the poet places the former at the threshold between the known and the unknown, the human and the non-human. Stevens uses the technique to pave the way for his philosophical poetics of form and formlessness, in which the emptying of categorisations by the poetic imagination enables new experiences of more-than-human realities. Finally, Cummings implements this technique as an effort to express what he describes as the immeasurable and timeless ‘silence which thought cannot capture’. Through his highly experimental poetics, he not only consolidates his rejection of logical language, but also decentres the human self and allows more-than-human agency to occupy the space of his poetry.