Adam Dickinson is currently completing a new collection of poems as follow-up to his Governonr General’s Award nominated book, The Polymers. The new work, tentatively called Anatomic, traces, and in some cases imagines, the stories behind alien chemical substances found in his body. I met with him at his home in St. Catharines, Ontario, near Brock University, where he is a professor of English Language and Literature.
I’m interested in thinking about my body as a form of biological media. I found uranium in my blood, and I want to know where that came from. What is the story, what is the biography, so to speak, of all these chemicals and microbes that constitute my own biography?
I think the larger purpose of my project, is to really look at the way in which people, humans, in a sense constitute permeable membranes. We’re not separate from the energy systems of our historical moment. And I’m very interested in thinking about my body really as a kind of text, as a kind of writing that has been written over by my historical moment.
How can I tell the story of a person living in the Anthropocene, right now, this moment in our geological history, where humans now have become geophysical forces on the planet?
Poetry is always pushing the limits of what it means to write. What means to conceive of writing, on the one hand, which I think is partly what I’m doing here—thinking about writing as a kind of biological entity here. Understanding myself as being written over by my environment.
Poetry pushes narrative, it pushes the possibilities really of linguistic expression. And as much as that is challenging, I think it has to be challenging. I think that’s where poetry lives. I think of it as a kind of extreme writing, necessarily. I think that’s what poetry is.
One of the difficulties, I think, that the Anthropocene presents us with is the issue of scale. It’s difficult in many cases to see global warming, for example, because it happens at such an incremental level. You have to actually step back and look at ice core samples or look at temperature changes over decades to see it—it’s hard to see. And I think the same is true when it comes to petrochemical pollution, and I think part of what I’m doing with this project is attempting to look at scale a bit differently. What happens when we magnify this? When looked at from a different scale we can see petrochemicals and microbes as a form of writing.
It’s been an interesting journey for me to understand myself as a modern being wearing, as I do, the energy sources and the products of those energy sources of my contemporary historical moment, whether I like it or not. You know, I wear industrial, agricultural, military history inside me. That’s terrifying, and strange, and weird, and disturbing to learn.
Are we okay with that? Are we okay with living in a world in which these companies can pollute in this way? I mean, there’s a kind of, in a sense, imaginary science project that the industrialized world is performing on the bodies of its citizens without consent. Are we okay with that?
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