Environmental Humanities

Marine Poetics and Aesthetics

“What is the Ocean doing?”

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)

Let me bring my home to yours.
Let’s watch as Miami, New York,
Shanghai, Amsterdam, London,
Rio de Janeiro, and Osaka
try to breathe underwater.

  • Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Aka Niviâna, “Rise” (2018)

The ocean is, and has always been, doing a stupendous deal. Its doings have long been acknowledged and engaged by certain social, intellectual, artistic, and political practices. By certain others, they have gone unregarded, undervalued, or uncomprehended. As the central importance of oceanic acts for all planetary life becomes harder and harder to ignore, ways of encountering and understanding those acts acquire greater and greater significance.

SEI joins a growing international community of oceanic researchers and practitioners by putting marine matters at the centre of our collective concerns. Poetics and aesthetics are vital elements of an approach that recognises the importance of language, literature, music, visual art, and imagination for human orientations toward the sea. Thinking poetically and aesthetically also helps clarify the ways that marine contexts, processes, and lives sometimes elude terrestrial forms of inquiry, metaphor, image, and feeling. Taking an expanded view of what constitutes poetics and aesthetics, and of who counts as a poetic and aesthetic agent, also opens spaces for honouring nonhuman oceanic selves.

Not least of all, unsettling conventional poetic and aesthetic practices has the potential to create new frames for enacting our oceanic futures. SEI is especially committed to amplifying those lives, voices, lifeways, and knowledges that express rich and complex oceanic relations but have been left out of dominant accounts. And we are dedicated to theorising and crafting aesthetics and poetics in collaboration with colleagues across disciplinary, institutional, and geographical boundaries.