The phenomenon of trash in our world is a collective endeavor – it takes myriad people to imagine, engineer, produce, distribute, purchase, use, and redistribute items that become "trash." Does this transformation occur when the item is removed from this social circulation (and committed to the landscape-ecosystem: crushed underfoot, or carted away to the landfill)? Are these items still "trash" when reintroduced into social circulation through poems or photographs? How does working creatively with collected-discarded items change one's relationship to trash? In this spirit, a collective inquiry was carried out by students in my advanced undergraduate poetry workshop.
The "Trash Inquiry" asked them to collect trash encountered on daily walks to create a collaborative trash heap, and then to collectively interact with it. Poems resulted.
Taking a cue from photographs recently posted by Allison Cobb on her blog, students selected items from the collaborative trash heap to photograph, creating both "portraits" and "landscapes." Trash was repurposed in various ways, particular qualities amplified in these new contexts:
See the Trash Issue of the Volta, which features several contemporary trash-based projects, from the small-scale collage-fans of Alice Notley to the large-scale landscape performance of Kathy Westwater, Jennifer Scappettone & Seung Jae Lee.