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Poetry and the Anthropocene : Ecology, Biology and Technology in Contemporary British and Irish Poetry
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This book is about the way shifting conceptions of ecology, biology and technology significantly alter what it means to write poetry about nature in a time of environmental crisis. This study conducts a radical re-reading of three major British poets — Ted Hughes, Derek Mahon and JH Prynne — each of whom exhibits a very different approach to politics and poetics. But despite representing distinct parts of the poetic spectrum, these writers are all profoundly influenced by their readings of the life sciences, including evolutionary biology, climate science and biogenetics. Each brings their poetry to bear on the ways that scientific discoveries and models play out in the popular imagination, but they also partially resuscitate one of the most significant aspects of Romantic poetics — the relation of poetic form to life’s operations. However, they do so at a time when the relative solidity of nature has dissolved into a tangle of biological networks and inorganic materials currently shaped on a global scale by the emergence of human technology and communication. As work in ecocriticism over the last two decades has shown, the humanities need to find 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 conceptualize them.
This study shows how poetry provides particularly interesting ways of engaging with these issues. The book examines these poets’ individual aesthetic strategies for negotiating and recalibrating the complex feedbacks between organisms and their environments in a technological world. Their poetry not only provides ways of thinking and communicating about ecology and biology, but shows how the unpredictable processes of thought and communication impact on organic life in the Anthropocene, providing a substantial challenge to aesthetics, ethics and politics.