Bordering the Anthropocene: Round Table Discussion

Student post by Stephanie Albrecht. Posted November 8th, 2017.

For the last panel at the “Genres of the Anthropocene” symposium, the speakers participated in a moderated roundtable discussion. The panelists addressed critical concerns for this new geological moment, such as the constraint of poetic conventions, narrative urgency, and lyric poetry as a form of rhetoric. One significant through line I noticed was the image of a wall. McMorris first proposed the wall as part of his new work in lyric, which reconfigured into poetic and visual forms images of the Berlin Wall. He spoke to the idea of a wall as both a writing space and an obstacle, and suggested that perhaps in the Anthropocene we seek to enclose spaces as a way of separating “good” environments from “bad” ones. The panelists revisited this conversation when they turned to a discussion of convention and form in lyric poetry.

Prof. Nathan Hensley, the moderator of the panel, asked the panelists if they saw the inherited constraint of lyric poetry as a limiting wall, or whether the form was a way to rework from the inside and create, as Amitav Gosh calls for, a new form. The panelists indicated that viewing a wall as a writing surface – a space of possibility –  resonated with them the most. This brought up an interesting question about how ecological considerations in poetry allow for authors to navigate between the polarization of experiment and convention. The panelists mostly saw that there was no need for a new form, but that the ability to think through and manipulate old structures granted them access to a lyric of the Anthropocene. In fact, the notion that a limit or constraint can act as a space for experimentation appears to one key feature of thinking about genre in and for the Anthropocene.

The panelists continued to push back against the “new” throughout the discussion. It came up again when Juliana Spahr resisted the “providential narrative” in poetry, particularly ecocritical poetry. She noted that we often import scientific narratives into our poetry; this indicates that “new” science will save us. This narrative is a common theme in the apocalypse genre of climate change poetry but is not the only, nor the best way, of reconfiguring ecopoetry. The panelists proposed a series of forms –comedy, drama, classical lyric, and lyric of loss – though none fit quite as well as the form of the collection. Sonya Posmentier first addressed this in her presentation during “Scale, Time, and Justice,” but the collection form also works as a way of addressing urgency in the Anthropocene lyric. There is an idea that both the reader and the poetry are changing as a response to the changing environment. There is then an urgent need to collect, preserve, and circulate the present moment, or the culture of the present moment. Lyric then functions as a way of narrating or reconfiguring so as to give shape to the rhetorical present. Once readers and writers have been situated temporally, we can look back to see how we got to this state or look to the future to see what might lie beyond the apocalypse. The genre of the Anthropocene then is the genre of breaking through a traditional narrative or poetic function to practice a collection or loss and theorize sustainability.

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Stephanie Albrecht is a second-year Master’s student in English Literature at Georgetown University. Her work focuses on animal language and representation in the Renaissance with particular attention to paid to studying animals in literature without anthropomorphizing them.

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