The Introduction lays out the historical framework of the Great Acceleration. Rather than aligning the Great Acceleration with the discourse of the Anthropocene, this introduction argues that the particular historical model of the Great Acceleration is more attentive to the explosive economic growth in this period and its ecological ramifications. Postwar American poetry's interest in leftovers, residual matter and life, and unredeemable goods makes it a particularly keen chronicler of the larger ecohistorical changes of this era. At the same time, this interest in remainders rather than natural externality becomes a measure of the increasing inaccessibility of the master-concept of nature as an imaginative resource and a cultural concept in this time. It also reveals the changing self-conceptions of the cultural work and status of poetry after modernism.
The opening chapter reads two mid-century poets, Lorine Niedecker and Gwendolyn Brooks, as chroniclers of socioecological transition in the immediate postwar period. While environmental historians have recently turned attention to the suburbs as the key site of inquiry into changing postwar conditions, the chapter emphasizes the rural and urban peripheries as locales that reveal many of the emerging characteristics of the Great Acceleration. Turning first to Lorine Niedecker, the chapter describes her development of a poetics attentive to uneven development, residual forms of life, and ecosystemic degradation in the mixed economy of rural Wisconsin. The second half of the chapter moves from Niedecker's rural Wisconsin to Brooks's urban Chicago. Brooks explores the production of space in relation to the forms of environmental racism emerging in South Side housing and neighborhood conditions after 1945.
This chapter begins with a discussion of the new forms of environmental consciousness emerging in the 1960s and early 1970s around pollution and systemic toxicity. It focuses specifically on Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner, discussing their approaches to ecological interconnection under the sign of crisis but also the ways in which this interconnection is difficult to perceive or understand. The chapter then turns from their reflections on the scarcely perceptible intimacies of ecological interconnection to an examination of John Ashbery's poetry, which explores these thresholds. Exploring Ashbery's portrayals of waste and air as phenomena undergoing change, this chapter argues that Ashbery's work depicts various forms of environmental consciousness. His poetry unfolds an affirmative embrace of ecological uncertainty that involves neither critique nor attempt to repair damage, nor even an attempt to understand the causes of emergent crisis. Instead, he traces the way crisis can be sensed in his poetic surrounds.
This chapter engages with two poetic works of the early 1970s, Gary Snyder's Turtle Island (1974) and Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters (1st ed. 1971), which were essential reading for the countercultural left. These books envisage an ecological commons that is grounded in nonmodern or "primitive" ways of living but is also figured as not yet existent, requiring revolutionary change in order to come into being. Holding images of ecological catastrophe alongside visions of living lightly on the earth, these poems create a distinctive friction between tumult and ease that this chapter calls "revolutionary pastoral." These books repurpose the pastoral's opposition to acquisitive logics and the concept of property for an era confronting new forms of capital expansion and environmental enclosure. The chapter closes by examining the historical conditions that led to the decline of radical ecological politics by the late 1970s and the corporatization of the environmental movement.
This chapter begins with a consideration of the development of the discourse of the "end of nature" and its implications for understanding ecological relations. Pointing to the elegiac dimensions of this discourse, the chapter turns to Juliana Spahr's long poem "Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache" as an example of a literary exploration of the consequences of this conceptual absence. The chapter draws on the Romantic philosophy of Schiller as well as more recent psychoanalytic accounts of elegy and mourning to argue that the operations of elegy become the subject of investigation in Spahr's work. "Gentle Now" serves as a representative eco-elegy that dwells in melancholia rather than moving toward the completion of the mourning process. The chapter closes with a consideration of a more recent poem by Spahr, co-written with Joshua Clover, that investigates the affective and political limits of melancholy as a response to present conditions.
This chapter turns to the contemporary mode of ecopoetics as an exploration of the problems of poiesis in a time of accelerating ecological destruction. Ecopoetics as a distinctive mode emerges in the post-Kyoto Protocol era, when the problem of how to respond to planetary environmental degradation has become increasingly urgent. The ecopoetics texts of the chapter present an extended redescription of human capacities and aesthetic making in light of anthropogenic crisis. Discussing works by Brenda Hillman, Hoa Nguyen, Brenda Coultas, and Allison Cobb, the chapter highlights how their use of prosopopoeia and apostrophe dramatizes uncanny and defamiliarized dimensions of relationality. These portrayals raise questions regarding the culpability for environmental destruction and the limits of anthropogenic ingenuity to fix, remake, or salvage.
The Coda argues that storms are one key way to register the unfathomable earth-systemic changes characteristic of the Great Acceleration. It points to the intensifying weather patterns of this time and offers examples of some recent cultural works—poetry, film, photography—that represent these storms. In these representations, the spectator confronts the bewildering sense of change without any narrative arc that might point to recovery or renewal. One documentary text by Cheena Marie Lo on Hurricane Katrina offers a powerful investigation of these conditions of aftermath. The coda explores Lo's orientation toward the nonredemptive and the lost as a model of approaching the larger ethos of this study's poetry. The Coda ends with a turn toward the forms of connectivity that these works have charted, despite their larger historical pessimisms, and points to the ways these connections are materializing in contemporary struggles for the ecological commons.