Poetry in the Anthropocene

By Autumn Sharp, University of Kent §

I’ll only ask questions I don’t want to know the answers to

Jupiter’s gravity slings long-period comets out of harm’s way, while nudging some asteroids closer to Earth. And, in 1770, Jupiter took aim on Earth – but missed.”    

Deborah Byrd for EarthSky, Nov 25, 2015

barbed wire
Barbed wire. Photo by Ross Carder.


There is a bushel of grocery bags growing
Beneath the wild, wind-torn staircase that needs mowing.
Take these tansy seeds, phlox, and threadbare thoughts for sowing.


It is a matter for the hedgerow to decide—
That side is all pistils and whimsy, and the other side
Lies. Some built steel palisades while the green hawthorn died.


The deer mouse meant no harm.
Only the smallest twinge of insult is necessary to disarm
A rodent heart. Five-fingered limbs are the greatest cause for alarm.


Sister, the dream of all dreams became
A white-fringed pine today: two snowflakes exactly the same.
One six-sided figure had my bone structure and one spelled out your name.

Moss. Photo by Ross Carder.


Extinction is a veritable question of when.
The giant, burning black-eyed planet has granted us another lifetime again.
We’ve traveled the great egg-shaped world to come to where we have already been.


Mother wolf spider, the rain
Will be here soon, and of your silken home spun in the curved windowpane,
Nothing of your hard-earned spoils, not even your children, will remain.


Dear summer squash, corn, and yellow roses,
The rotten truth is that every time the kitchen door closes,
My heart is in the earth with the worm’s work and everything that decomposes.

This poem originates from my interest in how we, as global actors in the Anthropocence and as individuals, grapple with the alarming, oftentimes devastating, results of our scientific pursuits. What does it mean to be witness to the astonishing revelation that our species has caused perhaps irrevocable damage on a planetary scale? How can anyone stave off the lure of pessimistic apathy in the face of statistics such as this from The Guardian?

“The head of the Ocean Conservancy has warned that a failure to address waste will result in as much plastic in our oceans as fish. Already, scientists in Australia estimate that 90% of the world’s seabirds are likely to have pieces of plastic in their guts.” 

The statistic is easy enough to put in to words, and it is a rather undemanding task to read it. But what happens when we feel it? Do we even allow such words to penetrate our protective psychic epidermis? Should we? How can we metabolize the atrocities that are correlatives to the unique time and place in which we are now undeniably an integral part? And perhaps the biggest question is, what can be done?

Adam. Photo by Ross Carder.

Because, like many art forms, poetry and metaphor are capable of shifting one’s embodied experience beyond the limitations of language, if only for a moment, I believe it is a medium advantageously poised to begin to address some of these questions, to give us a way into the experience at the very least. Poetry is a pragmatic means to communicate the ineffable. It can help us metabolize, grapple with, synthesize, illuminate, and convey some of ways we are becoming humans in the Anthropocene, even if we do not yet know what that means.

It is my hope, too, that through the amalgamation of science with poetry and other art forms, we may be offered a radiant, kaleidoscopic lens through which we can observe each other, other species, rocks, clouds, rivers, and planets with just enough of a sense of wonder to stave off the lure of pessimistic apathy in the face of jarring statistics about seabirds.

Works Cited
Byrd, Deborah. 2015. Is it true that Jupiter protects the Earth?. EarthSky [Online]. http://earthsky.org/space/is-it-true-that-jupiter-protects-earth. Accessed December 20, 2015.
The Guardian. 2015. Plastic Waste in Pacific Ocean Washed Up on Hawaii Beach – In Pictures. The Guardian [Online]. http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/gallery/2015/nov/21/plastic-waste-in-pacific-ocean-washed-up-on-hawaii-beach-in-pictures. Accessed February 26, 2016.

Autumn Sharp is a poet and presently an Ethnobotany MSc student at the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Pacific University. Her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of print and online publications.