The Blue Hills Archipelago

Longform poetics & the ecological anti-epic

This essay puts forth Laurie Duggan’s decades-long serial poem, Blue Hills (1980–), as a radical antimythic and ecological approach to longform ‘epic’ poetics – or what I term the ‘ecological anti-epic’. The essay first reflects on the mythic ambitions of twentieth century Anglo-American modernist epic poets, such as Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, before turning to what I call the North American ‘antiepic’ postmodernist serial poem tradition. Centring on Robert Duncan’s Passages -- a key influence on Duggan’s own series -- I argue this ‘anti-epic’ approach to the long poem replaced the ‘mythical method’ (Eliot 1923: 483) of early modernist epics with a compositional method. Reading Blue Hills through the guiding principle of Duncan’s series, ‘grand collage’ (2014: 298), the essay then posits that Blue Hills -- as a localised re-deployment of Duncan’s grand collage method -- can be read as both a continuation, and subversive settler Australian reimagination, of the North American anti-epic serial poem tradition. Drawing on Peter Minter’s archipelagic approach to reading Australian poetry, Blue Hills is then read as a type of archipelago of poetic islands, one which challenges not only the epiccum-mythic ambitions of modernist longform poetry, but also the racially charged environmental myth-conceptions of early settler Australian poetic movements, such as the Jindyworobaks. I conclude with a brief reflection on the links between the process-based aesthetics of post-modern anti-epics and what Connor Weightman calls the ‘ecological long poem’ (2020: 3), ultimately positing that Duggan’s Blue Hills refutes the modernist penchant for speaking declaratively about the world and instead affects a sense that the world is reveling in its own wording.