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SAD in the Anthropocene: Brenda Hillman’s Ecopoetics of Affect

Author(s): Laurel Peacock

Journal: Environmental Humanities
ISSN 2201-1919

Volume: 1;
Start page: 85;
Date: 2012;
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This article focuses on three collections of poetry by California poet Brenda Hillman, Cascadia, Practical Water, and Pieces of Air in the Epic, reading for the ways in which the poems model an affective interrelation between human and environment. These three works each focus on a traditional element (earth, water, air) in order to explore its co-constitution with the human, treating the element as active, or, in Jane Bennett’s term, “vibrant matter.” In the Anthropocene, it is no longer an “intentional fallacy” to attribute human emotions to the environment or its elements. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is used throughout the article as a way to conceptualise this interrelation of human with environment; SAD suggests that in this era human and environment alike are disordered. I argue that, rather than staging a lyric subject regarding a landscape, Hillman’s poems create a confusion of subject/object and foreground/background relations in which the origins of affects are impossible to determine and harms circulate. Affect is vital in understanding human motivations in relation to climate change, and Hillman’s ecopoetic practice is an example of how we can shift our understanding of our affective relationship to the environment. Linguistic experimentation can shift awareness toward an understanding of the link between “what it felt like to have been a subject” and “what it felt like to have been earth” as well as what it feels like now to be indeterminately both, intertwined and in crisis.
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