- Epochal Ecopoetics
In his latest monograph, Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction, David Farrier pursues inclusive approaches to epochal thinking, calling for a reappraisal of disciplinary boundaries in light of the Anthropocene (p3). His contribution to this, from the field of literary studies, is a close analysis of poetry, that seeks to demonstrate the ways in which poetry can ‘model an Anthropocenic perspective’ (p5). Reflecting upon the scalar, systemic, and temporal challenges associated with the Anthropocene-as-concept, Farrier argues that poetry performs ‘work’ akin to the Anthropocene’s manifestation as an ‘intellectual shortcut’ for a wealth of competing scientific and ecocritical narratives, by regularly compressing and expanding vast amounts of meaning, and shifting the focus and scale of our gaze (pp4–5). For Farrier, these functions of poetry are necessary tools through which we might visualise the ‘knotted’, unthinkable structures that characterise the Anthropocene and climate change, to help us navigate our increasingly fraught relationship with the world around us (p128).
Anthropocene Poetics communicates this argument in three parts, each guided by a set of theoretical frameworks familiar to scholars of the environmental humanities. These frameworks, it should be noted, do not align entirely faithfully to the ecocritical buzzwords that comprise the book’s subtitle, more closely exploring “thick time”, capitalist world-ecology, and kin-making, in turn. This incongruity is largely admissible, however, given the wide range of both scholarship and poetry that the book grapples with in its relatively short page span. A wealth of varied texts– as disparate as Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Sandpiper’ (1962) and Christian Bok’s Xenotext (2015)– widen the aperture of the work to include a broad definition of both poetry and poetics. Farrier’s relaxed traversal between art, theory, and poetry offers insight into more than he claims will be tackled in his introduction; the book does not only address the ways poetry might model an Anthropocenic perspective but delineates, too, how an Anthropocenic perspective is intrinsically poetic. Building on Karen Barad, Farrier stresses that ecopoetic criticism must be reflexive in its approaches to imagining the epoch: ‘if our goal is to think the social and the natural together’, he writes, ‘we need a method that does so “without defining the one against the other”’, and respects their status ‘as mutually transformative entities’ (p70).
Acknowledging this, then, as one of the book’s great strengths, I would have [End Page 187] liked to see a little more dialogue between each chapter of Anthropocene Poetics, to reconcile the overlaps and tensions that exist between the overarching themes guiding Farrier’s argument. If each chapter is designed to represent an ‘untying’ of one strand of entangled Anthropocenic relations, a subsequent acknowledgement of the implications that deep time, capitalist world-ecology, and kin-making have upon each other in the context of poetics would have been welcome in an extended conclusion– especially if, as Farrier hopes, literature and its criticism are to ‘point us toward a careful retying’ of these knots (p128). These are relatively minor critiques, however, of an excellent book. As it stands Anthropocene Poetics is a timely and innovative addition to the wealth of recent publications on ecopoetics, that leaves open an ample number of avenues for further exploration. [End Page 188]
Demi Wilton, Loughborough University