A Blog about Literature, Culture and the Environment

“Where are you from?” Making Ecopoetic Homes


Image by Corina Rainer on Unsplash

From nowhere, I’m from nowhere, I fell down when the pinnacle of the TV tower pierced a grey cloud and unfolded on the bony grounds, unfolded over two snails and a plastic film

From the street crossing the forest, I ran away, mouths full of wild bear leek, feet furry in moss green pools, margins so damp, so wound, I jumped over the crying sirens into rubber gloves

From the volcanic earth, I ate truffle and mussels at the rim of champagne and lava bread, toes blackened in the richness how my liver bubbled in the heat

From the tiny blood seed that travels through arteries that travels through vessels that travels through fat cells that clings on to water that enters the plumbing

From the bar where I had three gins and whisky and vodka, everything, careful not to step into any stereotypes here, to drink myself into global anaesthesia

From other places, which I left behind now to PET sculptured trees and pretend I speak / don’t speak / listen to everything, pretend we all love and laugh and laaf all the same, pretend we all don’t do it similarly / differently, holy fck, does it really


We’re moving. Blood streams through our bodies. Breath moves in and out, connecting us to the surroundings. Every day, the earth turns around its axis, around the sun, and is circled by the moon. The universe is in motion.  Why is there such a fixation on permanence, on static localities, on being based, rooted somewhere? Where are you from? Surely not from here?

In and outside geographical Europe, borders are thickening, passport photos are scrutinised.
Racist attitudes have always been spreading quicker than COVID-19. We stand together – until we run out of toilet paper. Near where I’m currently, partly at home, the chef of a renowned restaurant has recently proclaimed that customers of Chinese descent are no longer welcome. My home, my rules. Solidarity is a nice enough word, but scapegoating is much easier. You look/speak/smell differently… But where are you from originally?

People have been on the move, physically, for centuries. With airplanes, high speed trains, Uber, and city scooters, it’s possible to move quicker than ever now. This is only true for some, though, and it happens at the cost of others; others including the more-than-human world that gets squashed by carbon footprints. Still, all of us are moving, not with the same speed, but we are; on foot, in wheelchairs, in strollers, in cars, in boats, in the arms of someone else.[i] From the world inside the womb to the world outside the womb, from the bathroom to the living room, from there to here. The anthropologist Tim Ingold suggests that human existence “unfolds not in places but along paths”, and that places are knots, where different paths meet and entwine: Places are meeting places.[ii] They weave together different experiences and perspectives, stories, and memories. They are not flat and unified but dense and multi-layered; not static but stretching in different directions, connecting them.
Home, as an absolute singular, becomes a problem when it closes off place as an exclusive territory separating here from there and them from us. Collapsed with identity, place is pictured as a homogenous entity, when it is actually manifold and encompasses more variances than the word skin-coloured. People experience place differently, depending on age, gender, ethnicity; social, economic, and cultural context. Place is a multiplicity, it contains many different places. No matter how many borders and fences and walls, places are connected by global exchanges of air streams, weather, money flows, power lines, pipelines, toxins. Bodies are connected by oxygen, water, microplastics, bacteria, and viruses. In the past six or so months, depending where you currently are, the corona virus and its associated region-specific policies have once again unearthed and amplified the disparities that exist across continents, countries, cities, across schools and families. It’s easier to #stay at home if home is a sheltered location with a roof and functional heating/air con, Netflix, delivery service, and internet. Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. If you can connect, Zoom in on the difference between a shared living room and living in a shared room. Home is imbued with new meanings; the place where five siblings sleep in one bed, where no one hears the bruises, where one is alone for 24/7, hell, or refuge. Beyond the European land frontiers, the paths of many people are cut before they can intertwine with others here. Their lost lives are less often featured in the daily news. Are you trying to take away something that’s mine, my home?

I turn to ecopoetics as practice of making (poiesis) relationships across boundaries, with a shared home, the oikos, the planet earth. I want to think we not as an extension of I but as a chance for welcoming meeting places with the other, unknown paths. Far too often, the “where are you from?” question assumes fixed categories. Where do you belong? Which toilet door do you use? What religion do you practice? Which Hogwarts house are you in?
As an interdisciplinary edge, a “passionate, a necessary interest”, as Evelyn Reilly and Marcella Durand phrase it, ecopoetics challenges boundaries and hierarchies. [iii] It can be poetry, it can be art, it can be something else entirely. A mode that acknowledges the masked ramifications of an “everything is interconnected” mantra. I want to think place in plural and home as a verb, as an active making of a here for all its participants. If paths are moving, if they are in process, they can be shaped and entwined differently. They can be changed. We all are from planet earth, “the only home our species currently knows”, one that has been moved to the brink of becoming uninhabitable for humans.[iv] Where do we want to go from there, from here?

[i] Pointing out the persisting inequalities (“power-geometries”) along a global-local axis, the geographer Doreen Massey outlines how control over mobility both reflects and reinforces power: in-between all the movement of faxes, e-mails, financial flows, satellites, airplanes, ships and trains, lorries, cars, buses, “somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a woman on foot who still spends hours a day collecting water.” “A Global Sense of Place”, Marxism Today (1991), p. 25.  

[ii] Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 148-149.

[iii] See “Spatial Interpretations: Ways of Reading Ecological Poetry,” p. 201 and “Eco-Noise and the Flux of Lux,” p. 260 in Eco Language Reader, ed. Brenda Iijima (Brooklyn: Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs and Nightboat, 2010).

[iv] Jonathan Skinner, “What is Ecopoetics?”Jacket 2 (2011).

Author: Katharina Maria Kalinowski is a bilingual poet and EUmanities fellow at the Universities of Cologne and Kent. Her creative-critical PhD project focuses on ecopoetics, the Anthropocene, and expanded forms of translation. Her publications include Magma, Epizootics, and the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry.

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