Gut Botany


Gut Botany is the winner of the ASLE/Association of the Society for Literature and the Environment Creative Book Award (2022). ASLE Judges’ comments:

“In Petra Kuppers’s Gut Botany, body and language bloom open to bear witness to ecological, linguistic, and human wounds, grief, and healing. We are in the body in these poems, feeling the ache in a hip alongside the slippery pleasure of love—and, importantly, Gut Botany works with a body far too often silenced in environmental and contemporary literature. Kuppers shows her speaker’s existence as a “gender-non-conforming nebula,” as a person with a wheelchair, and as a survivor of assault, together with richly textured and evocative accounts of Michigan waterways and the sturgeon. Through surrealism and situationist poetry, Kuppers resists heteropatriarchy, ableism, and settler-colonialism through deep interconnection with the sentient ecologies around her. Gut Botany shows the interconnection of human and more-than-human bodies through the porous flow of water and of language. “Silica water rushes pearl kernels onto the land,” she writes, “Make yourself this place, / bones open into embrace, / my face outward, into the wind’s curvature.” Here is a book that shows what it is to inhabit a particular body, with its legacies of trauma and privilege, and to work through language—itself also a medium of trauma and privilege—in ways that acknowledge and choose respectful existence.”
 
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(Image description: Ancient sturgeon, bony dinosaur scutes, barbels trailing along stony lake floor, charcoal trace.)

Gut Botany has been named one of the 10 Best Poetry Books of 2020 by the New York Public Library. Thank you, librarians! They describe it beautifully, too: “Visceral poetry about the natural world exposes an internal human landscape teeming with life.”

Gut Botany also received the Silver Medal for Poetry from the Midwestern Book Association, and was a finalist for the Medal Provocateur.

You can watch a complete hour-long Gut Botany participatory performance here, recorded zoomishly at Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts online intensive in March 2020. Or a half-our reading followed by a Q+A with grad students at the University of Kansas’s MFA program, recorded a year later, in March 2021.

If you have 3 minutes, you can watch and participate in the first poem here.

Or you can listen to this 18 min interview with April Baer on Michigan Public Radio, for June 2021: Pride Month.

Gut Botany reviews

Jose Miguel Esteban writes about Gut Botany in Disability Studies Quarterly:

“[Kuppers] provokes us to understand the implications of our inhabiting and settling in any place as she does through her own process of navigating and negotiating her movement as a disabled settler on Indigenous land. Through such a practice, she pushes us to encounter questions of access in a way that attends to our simultaneous experiences of imaginaries.

Throughout her collection, Kuppers draws me deeper into a sensual investigation of my relationship to the memories held in the spaces through which we move. In the poem “House Concert,” she pushes us to ask, “What hides under the chairs? What sighs under the upholstery?” of her performance space (p. 33). As we drift through the Traverse City State Hospital in the poem “Asylum,” we confront the haunting “smell of hair” (p. 29), as we hear the “howls on the other side of the door” (p. 31).In “Court Theatre” and “Craniosacral Rhythms,” the body itself becomes a space through which impressions of trauma and pain are expressed and felt. Our bodies become aware of the memories that reverberate through every space we encounter. We hold ourselves within the tension that shapes our presence through experiences of oppression and through histories that have marked our unbelonging in any space. We hold this in tension with the communities of belonging we create in every place.”

Dennis James Sweeney writes in the Massachusetts Review:  “It is Kuppers’ combination of generosity and resoluteness that grounds Gut Botany. These poems are both fierce and freeing, both energetic and calm. During quarantine, when it is easy to feel as distant from the outside world as from oneself, I take heart in the contact that Kuppers cultivates between self and body, between body and world. Kuppers carefully inhabits that electric moment where the two meet, whether she is holding a stick of rhubarb or dreaming of a dragonfly’s “bristle foot pad hair.” Given that we are all, even in quarantine, in an endless interaction with the world outside of us, these are the kinds of moments to learn to live in.”

A great review of texts that are good to read in viral times: Books about Caring, at a Distance: “her collection embraces inclusivity and entanglement; nothing and no one here functions in isolation. The book is often energized by collaboration and conversations with other artists: … Kuppers also invites readers to consider their own somatics: what is it to be in this body, here, now? At turns beautiful and provocative, Gut Botany is a tonic against loneliness.” Thank you, Addie Hopes!

Maria Teresa Houar writes in The Review of Disability Studies:
“The influence of Indigenous epistemologies is deeply felt throughout Gut Botany, as Kuppers explores the ways in which settler cultures have constructed both Indigenous and Disabled identity as biomedical and necropolitical realities. She boldly problematizes the ableism and heteropatriarchal domination of white settler normativity and its many fictions. We see this critique laid bare in “Big Spirit Moon”: “I am not spared precarity/ in my occupation of indigenous lands/ I cannot see the lake the way you root/ drum, burn the chitin, an alarm” ( 2020, p. 72). It is also evident in the final lines of “Gut Body” on the very first page: primacy of white masculine fear/ close the leaky gut/ body drained of tears” (2020, p. 1). Kuppers offers a vision of resistance, an unapologetic reckoning of her body’s history. It’s a story born of navigating through landscapes both hostile and fertile, a counter narrative that queers all love, bodies, and relationships.”

Shane Neilson reviews Gut Botany for Wordgathering, with an elegant and insightful analysis of a poem which ends like this: “Beyond sense, Kuppers’ work offers the sonic delight of words alone: we can take pleasure from the single perfect end-rhyme of “here” and “years,” the consonance and assonance of “wood weeps”, the tongue tapping the roof of the mouth with “trees are twisted into themselves.” The poem reads like a mournful warning, and I do not think its ecosomatic messenging would be nearly as effective if Kuppers hadn’t taken as much care with craft. Therefore: poets, academics, poet-academics, and my favourite kind of people, readers: Kuppers’ intentionality has remained strong but her lyric gifts have increased with time. Culture Gut Botany yourself and apprehend the growth.”

Kimberley Ann Priest reviews Gut Botany on the Black Earth Institute blog: “The body, disabled in these poems, seeks expression—not only as disadvantaged and abused, but also as dancer, interpreter, and sexual; a force among forces. … You will feel when you enter these pages. You will be inspired to wander the path, scorn bodily shame, and enter a dance.”

On Gertrude, Ezra writes this beautiful review. “​Kuppers’s sentences are to be experienced as we read them, and they produce a dizzying and disruptive range of affective responses.”

 

For a different kind of insight into my working practices, here is a recent interview/discussion of my queer/eco/arts teaching.

And swoop over here for reviews of my speculative fiction work.

 

Recent Publications

About Petra

Gut Botany

Ice Bar: Queer/Crip Speculative Stories

Asylum Stories

EcoSomatics Symposia

Practices of Hope Reading Series

Painting Practice

Events

 

 

 

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