What’s the role of literature in a time of climate crisis? My guess is “kindling” for where I live. Back in 2003 I wrote a book of poems about climate and political and spiritual crises called The Hunter. A reviewer said something like, “In 20 years, this book will seem either prescient or self-indulgent.” I feel pretty good about the results of that prediction.
But seriously, some days this question is why I have a hard time getting started at work on the book. Feels a bit like when I was an early teen and Reagan was at the button. Why bother? Maybe I need to get a nose ring and a Mohawk.
We are at a moment in time that smacks of grand enterprise gone awry. We need to back out, decide what to relinquish (perhaps highly polluting industries and a colonial conception of home) instead of scrabbling to scaffold our out-of-date dreams of paradise. And the time to do this is now, was now in 1954, and 1970 and now and now and now – there is no other time.
Writing probably doesn’t feel like the most crucial response here, and maybe it’s not. There is lots of other work to be done. But writing can help us see connections, record violence, build empathy, address possible futures. Writing in an emergency means pulling yourself back from the nostalgic deep dive. It means unwriting our lusty paradises, because they never were.