Poetry and the Anthropocene: Ecology, biology and technology in contemporary British and Irish poetry, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Poetry and the Anthropocene

Ecology, biology and technology in contemporary British and Irish poetry, 1st Edition

By Sam Solnick


224 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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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.


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

Table of Contents

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

About the Author

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

About the Series

Routledge Environmental Humanities

From microplastics in the sea to hyper-trends such as global climate change, mega-extinction, and widening social disparities and displacement, we live on a planet undergoing tremendous flux and uncertainty. At the center of this transformation is human culture, both contributing to the state of the world and responding to planetary change. The Routledge Environmental Humanities Series seeks to engage with contemporary environmental challenges through the various lenses of the humanities and to explore foundational issues in environmental justice, multicultural environmentalism, ecofeminism, environmental psychology, environmental materialities and textualities, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, environmental communication and information management, multispecies relationships, and related topics. The series is premised on the notion that the arts, humanities, and social sciences, integrated with the natural sciences, are essential to comprehensive environmental studies.

The environmental humanities are a multidimensional discipline encompassing such fields as anthropology, history, literary and media studies, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, and women’s and gender studies; however, the Routledge Environmental Humanities is particularly eager to receive book proposals that explicitly cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, bringing the full force of multiple perspectives to illuminate vexing and profound environmental topics. We favor manuscripts aimed at an international readership and written in a lively and accessible style. Our readers include scholars and students from across the span of environmental studies disciplines and thoughtful citizens and policy makers interested in the human dimensions of environmental change.

Please contact the Editor, Rebecca Brennan (Rebecca.Brennan@tandf.co.uk), to submit proposals.

Praise for A Cultural History of Climate Change (2016):

A Cultural History of Climate Change shows that the humanities are not simply a late-arriving appendage to Earth System science, to help in the work of translation. These essays offer distinctive insights into how and why humans reason and imagine their ‘weather-worlds’ (Ingold, 2010). We learn about the interpenetration of climate and culture and are prompted to think creatively about different ways in which the idea of climate change can be conceptualised and acted upon beyond merely ‘saving the planet’.

Professor Mike Hulme, King's College London, in Green Letters

Series Editors:

Professor Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, USA

Professor Joni Adamson, Arizona State University, USA

Professor YUKI Masami, Kanazawa University, Japan

Previous editors:

Professor Iain McCalman, University of Sydney Research Fellow in History; Director, Sydney University Environment Institute.

Professor Libby Robin, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Professor of Environmental History, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden.

Dr Paul Warde, Reader in Environmental History, University of Cambridge, UK

Editorial Board

Christina Alt, St Andrews University, UK, Alison Bashford, University of New South Wales, Australia, Peter Coates, University of Bristol, UK, Thom van Dooren, University of New South Wales, Australia, Georgina Endfield, Liverpool UK, Jodi Frawley, University of Western Australia, Andrea Gaynor, The University of Western Australia, Australia, Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA,□Tom Lynch, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA, Jennifer Newell, Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia , Simon Pooley, Imperial College London, UK, Sandra Swart, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Ann Waltner, University of Minnesota, US, Jessica Weir, University of Western Sydney, Australia

International Advisory Board

William Beinart,University of Oxford, UK, Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago, USA, Paul Holm, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, Shen Hou, Renmin University of China, Beijing, Rob Nixon, Princeton University, USA, Pauline Phemister, Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, UK, Deborah Bird Rose, University of New South Wales, Australia, Sverker Sörlin, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, Helmuth Trischler, Deutsches Museum, Munich and Co-Director, Rachel Carson Centre, LMU Munich University, Germany, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, USA, Kirsten Wehner, University of London, UK

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy