“We’re living in the Anthropocene!” Dutch climate scientist Paul Crutzen coined the term ‘Anthropocene’ to describe what he regarded as a new epoch, characterized by human alterations to biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth. Digital humanities professor James Lee tells us “The Anthropocene has long been discussed in terms of hard science. Yet, if it is an age caused and created by humans, then the Anthropocene must also be examined from all human perspectives.” In creating a poetry lens through which to focus, we aim to do just that in this issue.
Debates about the Anthropocene are ongoing. Does it begin with extinction, the domestication of fire, the invasion of the Americas by Europeans, climate change or capitalism? The Anthropocene Working Group sees mid-20th century nuclear testing as the boundary visible in future rock strata – but what does that overlook? Geologist and Earthlines editor Patrick Corbett suggests, “It seems to be widely accepted that the appearance of humanity will be marked in some way.” Poems, we think, can shed light on what the hard science doesn’t tell us, and draw up new knowledge from ‘deep time.’
Some of the commissioned poems and features grew out of gatherings that happened online during a global pandemic, as the UK went into another lockdown. The Anthropocene and Race conference in February 2021 at the University of Central Lancashire gave rise to an illuminating discussion with Kei Miller. Miller highlights how this geological term considers a homogenised human experience by saying that people of colour “have been living in the Anthropocene for hundreds of years.”
United across disciplines and time zones by their passion for environmental issues, eight poets met up with eight geologists and environmental researchers for a virtual collaboration event to spark ideas and plant seeds for new poems. Poets Nnimmo Bassey, Deryn Rees-Jones, Rebecca Sharp, Za!ar Kunial, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Janette Ayachi, Isabel Galleymore and Lindsey Holland met up with environmental engineers Champika Liyanage and Jonathan Kinnear, environmental humanities scholar Candice Satchwell, geomicrobiologist Oliver Moore, and geologists Patrick Corbett, John Bolland and Stuart Harker. We were thrilled by the outcomes. Poets marvelled at fossil collections, and geologists wrote ‘geopoems’ with stratigraphic layers (some of these appear on Magma’s website).
Between these covers forest fires rage, oil spills and su!ocates, winds bowl, rivers dry up and children wiggle to the rain tapping on zinc roofs. Isabel Galleymore mourns the tree-frog and Helen Bowell opens the door to the Green Man. Deryn Rees-Jones’ hauntingly beautiful opening poem The Cure paints a world where “the air was empty of animal sounds”.
Climate justice appears as a burning issue. Rees-Jones evokes how this will hit the young hardest, while our Inspired poet, Anthony Cody points out “These impacts are felt disproportionately across those lacking economic access and within black, indigenous, and communities of color.” Nevertheless, he insists on the infinite interconnectedness that binds us each to animals and to each other. Jaguar. Jaguar. Jaguar. Jaguar. Jaguar.
Printed with vegetable ink on recycled paper, this issue aims to help us think about what happens to rubbish, in a time some have wryly termed the ‘Wasteocene’ and ‘Plasticene.’ Amid the fires and deforestation, Grace Wells finds the tree in the page: “A book’s spine like the trunk of a tree to lean into.”
Six incredible young poets discuss the future, and their place in it. “When,” asks Maggie Wang, “has the Earth ever been subjected to such rapid and drastic change at all levels? The Anthropocene is a warning and more importantly a chance for us – humans – to put ourselves into perspective.” “My generation,” explains spoken word poet and activist Matt Sowerby, “are natives of the Anthropocene – we have never known a world that wasn’t ending.”
If we had prepared ourselves to bring forth a doom issue, we have been surprised by the tenderness with which these poets address the magnitude of all that relates to the Anthropocene – the poems encompass every little thing that is human-touched, and their musings allow us to embrace despair and hope all at once. The visceral – human hair, period blood and tattoos – sit alongside microbeads, oil and uranium and chart the traces left behind. As Courtney Conrad says with the title of her poem, Nothing Remains Unmarked.