1st Edition

Poetry and the Anthropocene Ecology, biology and technology in contemporary British and Irish poetry

By Sam Solnick Copyright 2017
    224 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    238 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book asks what it means to write poetry in and about the Anthropocene, the name given to a geological epoch where humans have a global ecological impact. Combining critical approaches such as ecocriticism and posthumanism with close reading and archival research, it argues that the Anthropocene requires poetry and the humanities to find new ways of thinking about unfamiliar spatial and temporal scales, about how we approach the metaphors and discourses of the sciences, and about the role of those processes and materials that confound humans’ attempts to control or even conceptualise them.

    Poetry and the Anthropocene draws on the work of a series of poets from across the political and poetic spectrum, analysing how understandings of technology shape literature about place, evolution and the tradition of writing about what still gets called Nature. The book explores how writers’ understanding of sciences such as climatology or biochemistry might shape their poetry’s form, and how literature can respond to environmental crises without descending into agitprop, self-righteousness or apocalyptic cynicism. In the face of the Anthropocene’s radical challenges to ethics, aesthetics and politics, the book shows how poetry offers significant ways of interrogating and rendering the complex relationships between organisms and their environments in a world increasingly marked by technology.

    Introduction: poetry and science

    1. Evolving systems of (eco)poetry

    2. ‘Life subdued to its instrument’: Hughes, mutation and technology

    3. ‘Germinal ironies’: changing climates in the poetry of Derek Mahon

    4. The resistant materials of Jeremy Prynne

    Conclusion: Evolution, agency and feedback at the end of a world


    Sam Solnick is the William Noble Research Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Liverpool, UK.

    Sam Solnick has written a compellingly mobile, unpredictable and multi-dimensional study of contemporary poetry within the context of current debates about literature, ecology, systems theory and environmental crisis. It operates on two fronts. In the first place, Solnick offers a brilliant critique of modern thinking about ecology, ecopoetry, ecocriticism, and the poetry associated with it, provocatively rethinking current assumptions about environment-oriented poetry and theory. In the second, he offers scintillating and authoritative readings of three major contemporary poets no-one else would have dreamed of bracketing together: Ted Hughes, Derek Mahon and J.H. Prynne. Claiming that poetry is particularly useful for thinking about the ‘biological, ecological and social systems important to the Anthropocene’, Solnick has not only written a highly original study of the three poets in their intellectual contexts but a uniquely self-reflexive map of current thinking about the fate of the human, the natural and the ecological in our period of acute environmental crisis.

    Hugh Haughton – University of York.

    Sam Solnick has written an indispensable account of the concept of ecopoetry, its meanings, history, and vicissitudes, giving the term a sharp and valuable focus. Better than that, he has instantiated its force in informed, engaged close readings

    Timothy Clark – Durham University

    As Solnick says, we are living in an age when humanity has ‘the capacity to disrupt (but not control) biological and ecological process’. This thoughtful and timely book addresses what it means to read and write poetry in this context

    Robert Hampson FEA, FRSA
    Professor of Modern Literature, Royal Holloway, University of London

    As ecocriticism itself expands and contracts, drawing on but sometimes recoiling from other bodies of knowledge, it is increasingly difficult to map its theoretical twists and turns, or to map any one of its positions onto an effective praxis. The strength of Solnick’s book lies in his ability to negotiate this sometimes self-contradictory field to offer careful and perceptive readings

    British Society for Literature and Science

    A wide-ranging, richly suggestive set of insights. Not only does Poetry and the Anthropocene offer a meticulous engagement with existing criticism in every chapter from the literature review onwards, but it also brings the same level of attention to bear on its primary materials, offering intelligent close readings of the poetry itself as well as thoughtfully curated selections from the archives. Overall, Solnick’s conclusions underline how thoughtful, wide ranging and occasionally provocative his work is.

    Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism

    Poetry and the Anthropocene as a whole is a dense study, often working beyond the confines of what we might conventionally call the Humanities to probe poetic responses to climate change. Solnick’s book is part of growing and important body of work that seeks to bring critical and theoretical insights to the study of ecologically-minded texts, and even to consider how apparently non-ecologically minded texts are enveloped by environmental concerns.

    The Years Work in Critical and Cultural Theory 


    "What Solnick achieves in this really quite remarkable study of contemporary poetry and its various eco- contexts is a sustained and illuminating analysis of how poets understand the complex relationship between organisms and their environment, in an age when human activity is modifying the very constitution of the Earth."

    The Cambridge Quarterly, 2017


    "The wonderful flourish of Poetry and the Anthropocene is that the book itself benefits from such slow re-readings, as generative connections blossom backwards and forwards through the chapters. It is a pleasure to ‘think through’, as it were'... Solnick’s close textual analysis is a joyously detailed and well-researched reclamation of Hughes from earlier critics that demonstrates an anthropogenic depth to the poetry."

    Samuel J. Cooper, C21 Litrature Journal

    "With the release of Sam Solnick’s Poetry and the Anthropocene, the critical scene receives a major study, one which promises to be among the cornerstones of a discipline that is only now coming into its own.[…]The scope of his coverage is as superb as it is profound and aptly phrased […] If criticism has any role to play in tackling the environmental crisis we are witnessing all around us, it is by being practised in precisely the manner which Solnick masterfully displays in his study."

    Wit Pietrzak, Text Matters, Vol 9

    "Poetry and the Anthropocene is an intellectually challenging work which not only appreciates the scale and complexity of the Anthropocene, but offers readings of Hughes, Mahon, and Prynne that are finely crafted poetic studies in their own right. It is a fine example of ecocriticism that conveys the ecological significance of the poems it reads, without forgetting why we read poems in the first place."

    The Year's Work in English Studies, Volume 98, Issue 1, 2019