Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Brian Glavey


This dissertation examines the representation of material garbage in American poetry, from the development of industrial waste management in the late nineteenth century to the present day ecological crises. In the early to mid-twentieth century, garbage serves as a new Romantic nature, allowing poems’ speakers to reflect on themselves and their society through this trashed landscape. The presence of the material garbage itself, however, was never a central concern and continued to be hidden behind its various metaphorical utilizations. A.R. Ammons’s poem Garbage opened up the poetic conversation by searching for a more nuanced and worldly treatment of garbage. The twenty-first century brought the Anthropocene, an era in which human civilization was wreaking large-scale, long term environmental damage comparable to and often more extreme than natural disasters. Conceptual works like those of Kenneth Goldsmith highlight the difficult poetry has in emphasizing its own materiality without adding more to the landfills. Contemporary poets of waste and nature face the question of ethical responsibility regarding the extent to which they should necessarily endorse environmental activism. Following this, a new task for these poets includes acknowledging and mobilizing what Margaret Ronda has called poetry’s “obsolescence.” Given this obsolescence, some poets have found a degree of success in drawing on their locale for subject matter and for readership, a focus that may hold promise for engaging in environmental activism through poetry.