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This chapter explores some of the new developments, trends, and movements that have characterized contemporary American poetry in the period since 2000, a period in which poetry grapples with a tumultuous, rapidly changing culture and continues to become increasingly diverse. The chapter focuses on three of the most important developments: the collapse of the old binary opposition between mainstream and experimental and the emergence of a new hybrid mode; a new openness to remix, sampling, and the use of found language and documentary materials in poetry associated with movements such as Conceptual poetry and Flarf, which can be seen, in part, as a response to the rise of the digital age and new questions about originality and appropriation it has ushered in; and a resurgence of politically engaged, formally adventurous poetry, especially by poets of color, in the era of Obama and Trump. The chapter focuses on representative poets, including Jorie Graham, Dean Young, Kenneth Goldsmith, Tracy K. Smith, Robin Coste Lewis, Claudia Rankine, Ross Gay, Danez Smith, and Terrance Hayes.
This chapter argues that ‘address’, one of poetry’s most fundamental — if sometimes overlooked – dimensions, offers insights into the concepts, affects, and scales surrounding our planet’s intertwined economic and ecological systems. Analysing work by Jorie Graham, Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover, Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, Stephen Collis and Adam Dickinson, it explores poems that address a variety of subjects and entities. These include poems addressed to future generations, to geographical places, to online communities, to the human species, to the planet, and from the non-human to the human. In doing so, I show how understandings of globalization and the Anthropocene have caused a recalibration in the form as well as subject-matter of environmentally engaged poetry. This has implications for how we negotiate questions of climate change, temporality, extinction, technology, activism and agency. Now, more than ever, it matters not only what poems speak about, or even who (or what) is speaking, but to whom (or to what) they speak
Recent studies in environmental psychology have shown how acts of perspective-taking can increase empathy in participants, leading to a ‘green nudge’ effect in relation to climate change. Similar proposals recur in ecocritical approaches to climate change fiction, influenced by long-standing arguments on fiction’s capacity to improve ‘theory of mind’. To further understand, but also to problematise and thus develop, these discussions of perspective-taking, I identify the parallels between these claims and those concerning virtual reality (VR) as an ‘empathy machine’, as well as those counter-claims regarding VR as an ‘appropriation machine’ that commodifies the experience of others. Jorie Graham’s poetry collection Fast (2017) explores the possibilities and difficulties of generating environmental empathy via material and simulated means, the latter inclusive of both textual and digital forms. In my analysis, I show how Graham generates a deliberately unstable and unreliable perspective-taking process with regard to human and non-human others. Consequently, I argue that her poems contribute a crucial interpretation of perspective-taking as a provisional act that at once reveals our strong human desire to connect with others, as well as our (potentially inevitable) inability to do so.
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