Book Review: The New Poetics of Climate Change

Beci Carver, University of Exeter

Matthew Griffiths, The New Poetics of Climate Change: Modernist Aesthetics for a Warming World (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

Imagine a version of William Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’ in which the air is ablaze, like an Australian sky, with bushfire light. The singer is stooped over to reap, but there is no crop: she is ghostwalking through an old routine. She sounds like a bird – a nightingale or cuckoo – but has never heard birdsong. She seems to be mourning something, but she could be mourning everything. The pastoral mode has always been characterised by pre-emptive elegy, as if the natural phenomena it described were better understood in their absence. But there is something viscerally different about a pastoral poem that spells out the environmental crisis it fears. Once, when Alice Oswald read out ‘Dunt: A Poem for a Dried-up River’, ‘someone had an asthma attack because she forgot to breathe’.

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