Cecily Parks and Environmental Sociology

I would like to propose that Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights, is an environmental sociologist. Last semester I took an Environmental Sociology class in which we explored the history of the way that humans have thought of and interacted with the environment, and the way that that history has cumulated in the current human-environment interactions. In the collection O’Nights, Cecily Parks explores the tension between the “natural” and the “human.” She expresses a sense of envy of characteristics and activity of the non-human world that she is excluded from simply by the fact of her species. She writes of a swallow that she follows, “She dips her wings in her reflection/but I cannot.” She also points out the absurdity of her human thoughts and desires when set in the context of the ecological system of the earth. She writes, “I asked the stars, will you be my jewelry?” This reveals her desire to possess what is impossible to possess, and the absurdity and impossibility of human desire.

Parks also questions whether human concern with the environment is part of a desire to possess. She writes, “My fields were ill. They weren’t my fields./My trees were being killed. They weren’t my trees.” Environmental sociologists have proposed that theories of human-centric environmental conservation have damaged the ecosystems that they hoped to help. She writes, “We ask the snow to be wool for us.” Some of the ineffective environmental reform was the result of the assumption that a state of nature is perfect, simple, and predictable in the realm of human logic. Parks has a revelation that escapes many environmental theories when she writes, “Wilderness isn’t paradise.” Parks acknowledges and unpacks her own sociological biases, intellectually examining her relationship to nature but never shirking from her inherent human bias.

Parks’ poetry seems an appropriate, though unexpected medium for environmental sociology. The poems are aware that their content is shaped by the fact that they are poems, just as Parks is aware that her feelings about the natural world are shaped by the fact that she is human. In the second section of the collection she writes about her daily habits in contrast to those of the world outside the human world, acknowledging her insignificance in the context of the greater system of wilderness. She is able to synthesize her observations with a calculated awareness of her lens being shaped by her place a human and as a poet. She writes


if I in our dining room


dance, wheezily

singing so not even

our infestation of moths can hear: I will never be daughter

of the maple tree! I will never be

sister of the leaf!

3 Replies to “Cecily Parks and Environmental Sociology”

  1. Wow! I really never thought of her work in this way…“wilderness isn’t paradise” is an idea that I think is also apparent in the way that nature is romanticized for audiences across literature, film, art, etc. I think that humans innately like to think that they enjoy nature, but when actually faced with it, how many of us would give up what we know to live among the truly “natural world.” The word “wilderness” alone has a far more sinister connotation that “nature” does, with the root word of “natural” perhaps making it seem more like an oasis, “perfect, simple, and predictable” the way you put it.

  2. Hey Mary!

    I really liked this post on Cecily Parks’ poetry collection and the approach you took to analyze her viewpoints under the discourse of Environmental Sociology. I think our class as a whole talked about her work as being very centered on the interactions of humans and the environment, but putting a term on this as you did provides an interesting lens to look at her work from.

    Parks’ strong desire towards the natural world was felt heavily by me during my reading of this particular collection. I especially liked how you described this, as “her desire to possess what is impossible to possess, and the absurdity and impossibility of human desire.” This adds a dimension of futility to this work that I feel is missed at a first read-through but definitely adds a somber coating to the film of this published work and is necessary when exploring the destructive relationship of humans and the Earth since this great big planet was conceived.

    A moment you cited– “We ask the snow to be wool for us” was a moment I didn’t spend too much time on but I really enjoyed your take on its meaning, especially after introducing the idea of human wants and needs and the ultimate impossibility of fulfilling ourselves entirely. This moment is especially significant to the collection, and of the conflict Parks expresses through her inability to fully understand her feelings towards the natural world due to them being clouded by ‘human bias’.

  3. Mary,
    I really like the way you’re interpreting Parks’ poetry, because I found myself noting her love of nature, but not being able to pick up on the disconnection. Cecily Parks is expressing a kind of lament for the connection that cannot and does not exist between herself and the natural world around her, and I think that this is a really enlightening view. I only wish I had your post to guide me when I first read the book, I was so lost when I did!

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