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Anglophone Cameroon Poetry in the Environmental Matrix

by Eunice Ngongkum (Author)
Monographs 192 Pages

Summary

This book explores contemporary Anglophone Cameroon poetry’s engagement with the environment through an eco-textual analysis of a cross section of poems from different poets. In this regard, the work broadens the field of ecocriticism beyond the original Anglo-American axis by developing a more locally-rooted in ecocriticism while making a valuable addition to the growing field of African ecocriticism.
It spotlights environmental degradation, the inextricable relationship between nature and culture as well as the intersection between history, politics, ethics and the environment in the Anglophone Cameroon cultural imaginary.
Focusing on the current need for the humanities to effectively respond to environmental challenges, the book foregrounds an environmental poetic vision that can be an ideal starting point for influencing and changing thought and behavioural patterns globally.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Traditional Environmental Lore, Colonial Legacies and Poetic Impulses
  • Chapter 2. ‘Falling Bush’: Arboreal Politics, Poetics and Ethics
  • Chapter 3. Nature’s Variability: Seasons in Poetry
  • Chapter 4. River Discourses in Poetry
  • Chapter 5. Cityscapes and Townscapes: The Urban in Poetry
  • Chapter 6. Nature and the Politics of Consciousness Raising
  • Afterword
  • References
  • Index

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Germany for awarding me the Georg Foster Fellowship in 2014–2015 during which time I developed and worked on some of the chapters of this book. My hostess, Prof. Dr. Sylvia Mayer, of the Bayreuth Institute for American Studies (BIFAS) of the Bayreuth University, Germany, did not only provide me with the warm and friendly academic environment to carry out research on the work but read through the chapters, made invaluable suggestions and helped shape my ideas on ecocritical practice. Sylvia, thank you and your team.

I appreciate the feedback I received on some of the chapters made by Professor Nol Alembong and PD. Dr. Eric Anchimbe.

I thank Dr. Gilbert Ndi Shang, the Anchimbe family, Yvette Ngum and Lilian Ngawa for making my stay in Bayreuth meaningful. I sincerely thank Mrs Grace Mokake, Emmanuel and Cathy Lamfu, Isaac Gwei and Mrs Teleu Juliana for their invaluable support.

As always, very special thanks to my family members for their loving support and encouragement: the Ngongkum children and grandchildren, my mother, my aunts, brothers and sisters. Finally, my deep appreciation goes to John for all the many ways he has supported me through our years together.

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Foreword

Ever since its emergence as a new critical field in the 1990s, ecocriticism, i.e. literary and cultural criticism that studies the role and relevance of literature and other artistic works for environmental discourse, has expanded and diversified rapidly. Together with such fields as environmental history, environmental philosophy, and cultural geography, it has more recently begun to give shape to a whole new formation of academic disciplines: the environmental humanities. Responding to world-wide, and still regionally specific, environmental crisis, ecocritical studies have revealed the variety of ways in which literary texts and other works of art have participated in environmental – and environmentalist – discourses, always operating on the premise that it is indispensable to approach any study of “culture,” “society,” or “nature” from a vantage point that regards these as inextricably linked. In the course of this development, ecocriticism has become a thoroughly transnational phenomenon that allows for theoretical and methodological cross-pollination and draws attention to the variety of ecological knowledges that have over time become manifest in, for instance, rich bodies of literary texts. A transnational ecocriticism thus also encourages the discovery, or rediscovery, of literary texts that have responded to socioenvironmental crisis from the particularity of their geographical, historical, and cultural moment.

Eunice Ngongkum’s Anglophone Cameroon Poetry in the Environmental Matrix is a significant contribution to the growing field of transnational ecocriticism – and to the study of the diversity of African literatures that have engaged with a variety of environments and with environmental crisis. Drawing on a number of critical approaches, among them postcolonial ecocriticism, human geography, and new historicism, the study presents in-depth analyses of a large number of poems, thereby introducing this body of literature to an international audience for the first time. In its focus on how literary tropes like forests, rivers, and the seasons are ← 9 | 10 → employed to develop specific ecological knowledge, in its exploration of the significance of traditional lore in the poems’ engagement with particular environments, both rural and urban, and in its discussions of the poetry’s (and the poets’) activist premises, the study reveals the perceptiveness and vibrancy of Cameroon’s contemporary Anglophone literary community.

In pointing out the eco-cultural specificities of the country and its history, Anglophone Cameroon Poetry in the Environmental Matrix adds a distinctive voice to the diversity of voices that comprise today’s globalized creative response to environmental crisis. It adds a voice that needs to be heard in the attempt to understand cultural values and practices that have been marked by environmental injustice and that need to be transformed in order to establish ecological futures that are politically, economically, and socially just.

Professor Dr. Sylvia Mayer

Chair, American Studies/Anglophone Literatures and Cultures,

University of Bayreuth, Germany

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Introduction

The birth of ecocriticism more than three decades ago (Johnson 2009), and the initial circumscribing of the field by scholars like Cheryll Glotfelty, Harold Fromm, Glen A. Love and Lawrence Buell, has led to its burgeoning from the perspective of literary study. Today, ecocriticism has established itself as a major force in the ever-growing academic discussions around environmental issues. Scholarly work, exploring an ever-expanding diversity of literary and cultural texts and practices, currently exists. These critical positions, on the “literature of all periods and places” (Johnson 2009), have brought a refreshing perspective to literary studies with regard to reading, teaching and learning about literature. Unfortunately, the ascendancy of ecocriticism in the theoretical landscape in recent times is evident mostly in groundbreaking work on English and American literature. Yet, the looming global environmental crisis (Heise 2006) demands a rethinking of the place of literature and literary criticism in today’s complex global world; a rethinking that must take into consideration literatures and cultural practices from every part of the globe.

While different reasons have been advanced for the near absence of ecocritical research on ‘other’ literatures such as those of Africa until recently (see Slaymaker 2001, Nixon 2005, Huggan & Tiffin 2007), suffice it to say that work on such literatures is slowly but steadily growing (see Vital 2008, Caminero-Santangelo & Myers 2011, Okuyade 2013, Caminero-Santangelo 2014), even though much of it is still focused on canonical texts and narratives. The reasons for this growth can be found in the expansion of ecocriticism beyond the Anglo-American axis whose primary focus was on traditional American values of conservation, preservation and the cult of wilderness. Such broadening of the field has enriched ecocriticism especially bringing to it, the existence of local environments with “their own temporality […], different ← 11 | 12 → significance for different constituencies,” to borrow the words of Anthony Vital (2005:292).

This book, about contemporary Anglophone Cameroon poetry and its engagement with the environment, derives from this background in its attempt to contribute to the growing corpus of critical work on literature and the environment in Africa. My perspective is to show how insights developed through the poetic genre could effectively contribute to the current offensive against the environmental crisis. I seek to illustrate that the poems, in question, do constitute an interesting repository of environmental knowledge about Cameroon’s/Africa’s unique biodiversity that can be useful in responding to current environmental challenges. Throughout my analysis, I attempt to highlight how poetry foregrounds the Anglophone Cameroonian people’s knowledge about their natural spaces, their interactions with these and efforts to preserve them. I underline how the poetry’s intimate connection with nature, as an informing pattern of social life, also intimates that current ecological problems are rooted in colonialism and its legacies which transformed and continue to transform life on the African continent. In its realist template, the poetry also indicts negative aspects of traditional society which contribute to exacerbating environmental degradation. In this way, the poems reveal that in the Cameroon/ African cultural imaginary, concerns with the environment are varied and complex and cannot, to borrow the words of Anthony Vital, “bear any kind of single meaning” (2008:90).

Ecocriticism, as noted above, is a major contribution to contemporary literary studies in its emphasis on the relationship between the human and nonhuman worlds. As a form of critical inquiry, it examines the relationship between literature and the physical world (Glotfelty 1995) “conducted in the spirit of environmental praxis” (Buell 2005). These views of Cheryll Glotfelty and Lawrence Buell are further elaborated by Ursula Heise in the following words:

Biographical notes

Eunice Ngongkum (Author)

Eunice Ngongkum teaches Postcolonial African literatures and Ecoculture at the Faculty of Arts, Letters and Social Sciences of the University of Yaoundé 1, Cameroon. Her research interests include postcolonial African literatures, ecoculture, literary theory and criticism, Diaspora African literature, and cultural studies.

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Title: Anglophone Cameroon Poetry in the Environmental Matrix