Josh with some more interesting thoughts on "post-postmodern pastoral", etc.
Interesting that he starts the genealogy with Pound. You could think of epic, long-poem, and pastoral (the goal of epic?) as sharing a certain space. Pound thought of his long-poem as a "tale of the tribe" (see Michael Bernstein book on this).
When I started exploring this area for myself, back in the early 80s, I was still working as a VISTA volunteer for various community/activist groups in Providence. I had managed a food coop & community gardens, & a CETA project with high school kids, to build a "community solar greenhouse"*. I was finishing a M.A. in community organizing at Beacon College in Boston. This work influenced my literary outlook, too. The notion of a long poem for me had to do with forms of poetry which were able to connect with historical movements & narratives, and with a kind of ideal, at least, of "public speech".
So for me the notion of pastoral had (& still has) a populist-political cast. Just part of the general awareness or desire for a "sustainable" common life, in harmony with the world (with people & nature in general). The relationship between social justice, the common good, and a healthy integration with nature.
In the days of VISTA we had a sense that the right thing for young people to do, before they plunged into the private sector in one way or another, was to work in the public sector - to monitor and rein in private interests on behalf of the common good. We were young & naive enough to imagine we had a pretty clear & reasonable notion of what that common good was, and that there was a kind of heroic grassroots/everyday struggle going on, against business interests & corrupt pols, that grassroots people could get involved with.
Why this was the right thing to do was precisely because the common good, since it is so vast, amorphous, and future-oriented, really has few advocates - unlike the narrow & short-term interests of the private sector. And this amorphous ideal quality was akin to the interests of the poor, who also had few advocates. And young people, because of their relative freedom from narrow obligations, were in a position to be those advocates. There's something beautiful about this notion, almost romantic. During the course of the 80s and 90s, political advocacy expanded, sharpened, and professionalized to a great degree. Lines were drawn more sharply, and soft-romantic idealism was curtailed.
This is how I see (very vaguely, anyway), the process happening over the last few decades. But I think underlying the rather naive and perhaps arrogant worldview of those times (mid to late 70s), there is a kernel of truth, an unresolved goal. How so? Well, politics, social policy, social justice are basically about figuring out how to live together. And there is always going to be a necessary balancing-out, an equilibrium, between particular special/private interests (both economic & political), on the one hand, and government policy regarding the welfare of the whole (the common good), on the other.
If one recognizes that political participation means engaging with the project of fostering that equilibrium - and if one accepts the notion of a kind of social-historical poetry (epic/long-poem/pastoral) - one might see how in different ways these two activities intersect. Because an "achievable" or sustainable pastoral world is obviously a project of social justice, in the most general and inclusive sense (ie., all the multifarious ways people engage in beneficial social activity). So pastoral poetry would necessarily have a political aspect.
Language - and poetry - of course, cannot be channeled or directed from the outside, not by any political strategy, philosophy, or 5-yr plan. The force of language - lyric, dramatic, narrative, didactic, satirical, comic - manifests in autonomous and unpredictable fashion. Setting aside any purely aesthetic argument, poetic language is a manifestation of the freedom of the human spirit. The project of epic/long-poem, however - akin to similar efforts in other modes of literature - is to represent "social wholes" or shared realities; they are narratives which reach for wide public recognition and assent/dissent.
[*in the 2nd collage in Stubborn Grew, there's a little photo of me standing next to that greenhouse. The CETA project which built it was probably one of the more unusual in the history of federal programs. A 6-sided solar greenhouse, about 40 ft long and 20 ft tall, designed so its 6 points would touch the side of a "vesica", the geometrical figure formed by the intersection of two circles; length dimensions were drawn from British author John Michell's various books on ancient "sacred geometry". Constructed by Brown student volunteers & CETA high school kids from Fox Point. One of the Brown students, Mark Van Noppen, went on to become a leading builder of urban rehab housing in Providence.]