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Louisiana “Wasted” :: Marthe Reed on Documentary Poetry

In the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter feature On Writing #33, Marthe Reed comments on the changing landscape and environmental destruction of the birdfoot delta of the Louisiana coastline. Reed, who spent just over a decade in south Lousiana before moving to Syracuse, speaks to the impact we, including herself, have on the natural world around us. She confronts this in a form of “documentary poetry,” which she says: “allows me, an outsider, to write my way into this beautiful, vanishing world without anger, without falling prey to the temptation to preach. Documentary poetics allows grief into the poem without bathos or sentimentality or feigned authority.” Her poem in image “wasted” appears in the column, including painstakingly detailed tracing of the landscape in which to embed her text. Lines like “fecal coliform (sewage),” “chlorine, metal complexing agents,” and “ammonia 17B-estradiol” seep out into the waterway space on the page, just as in real life. The combination of her personal narrative, environmental research, and this resulting work have a lasting impact on the reader, just as I’m sure she hopes to do, answering her own question: “Is it possible to bring urgency to the back page news item, the flickering story on the nightly news?”

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