Front Cover by Mercedes Dorame
Smoke to Water, Chyaar Paar 'Apuuchen 2013
Courtesy of the artistOrder a copy now
Front Cover by Mercedes Dorame
Smoke to Water, Chyaar Paar 'Apuuchen 2013
Courtesy of the artistOrder a copy now
I WON’T WASTE YOUR TIME with another litany of doom. Yes, statisticians at the University of Washington recently estimated there’s a 95 percent chance the planet will exceed 2 degrees Celsius warming. Yes, current trajectories for CO2 emissions match the IPCC’s worst-case scenarios, which predict we’ll reach global temperature increases of 4 degrees Celsius or more by 2100, perhaps as early as 2061. And yes, leading ecologists and biologists have warned us that we face “a ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health, and climate-disruption upheavals (including looming massive migrations) and resource conflicts this century.” But let’s be honest: such abstractions have never seemed quite real.
What does seem real are names like Dixie, Bootleg, August Complex, Caldor, Lionshead, Beachie Creek, Holiday Farm, and Hayman as forests across the American west turn into energy, pluming stored carbon into the sky, bloodying the sun half a continent away. Yet by what name do we call more than 400 million acres of burning Siberian taiga, releasing more carbon dioxide in three months than Germany does in a year?
What sense can be made of the vast planetary transformation we euphemistically call “climate change” will only be apparent in the aftermath, to whatever survivor is lucky enough to find themselves picking through the charred rubble of a civilization so many of us publicly despise yet just as desperately cling to. But to get from here to there could take a hundred years—or a thousand—so even that comfort, the idea that someone will bear witness and rebuild, remains an abstraction. Meanwhile, here we are in the midst of it—or as Frank Kermode called it, the “middest”—with no better option than to keep stumbling backward into the future.
Our dilemma: that we must see without sight, imagine without vision, hope without hope, and somehow persist even as we are consumed with grief and terror.
Grief and terror—or grief and error. The latter are two of the main themes of the last book from perhaps one of our last great “nature writers,” Barry Lopez, who died from cancer in December 2020, after fleeing the Holiday Farm Fire, which took his home, his workshop, and his archive. That book, Horizon, tracks a lifetime of crossing beyond the limit of the known, in spite of the grief that inevitably arises and in spite of the fear of having gone awry that inevitably dogs the explorer’s steps, all the more when, after five hundred years of Baconian scientific extraction and racialized colonial exploitation, we can no longer distinguish between exploring and oppressing.
In this special issue, dedicated to the climate crisis and those being destroyed and changed by it, and dedicated as well to the memory of Barry Lopez, pride of place goes to Thoreau scholar Laura Walls, who traces the intellectual development of Lopez’s lacerating, spiritual commitment to alterity, through Lopez’s writerly encounters with Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau.
We are also proud, humbled, and lucky to be publishing, for the first time and with the cooperation of Lopez’s partner Debra Gwartney, a talk he gave in 1996 as part of the Three Rivers Lecture Series in Pittsburgh, where he discusses, with his characteristic passion and precision, just what exactly he sees the writer doing, or being able to do, in a time of precarity, dispossession, and ecological crisis — which, it’s easy to forget, has been “our time” now for decades.
“The best definition I ever encountered of what it meant to be a storyteller in a human society,” Lopez writes, his voice echoing off the page, “is a translation of . . . the Inuktitut word for storyteller: isumataq. It means: the person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.” Lopez’s avowed hope, as a writer in nature, was that in connecting “the interior landscape of the individual mind together with the shared exterior landscape of the physical earth, it is possible to create a useful and enduring pattern of factual or emotional truth.”
It is our hope and luck, as editors and guest editors for this issue, to have created an atmosphere in which such patterns may emerge—an embarrassment of riches in the poverty of our common plight: in addition to Laura Walls’s essay on Barry Lopez, and Lopez’s unpublished lecture, we have an essay from the incomparable Amitav Ghosh on migration and displacement; an elegiac account of environmental martyrdom from Rob Nixon; a provocative meditation on the potential of watermarks and fakes in climate narratives from Sarah Vaughn; as well as two essays on wildfire: a moving personal account from Alex Kuo about fighting fires in Idaho, and an impassioned cri de coeur from Rick Bass for the threatened Black Ram forest and the endangered western larch that grows there.
Many pieces in this issue are works of witness, a key mode in the literature of ecological crisis. This is the case not least because ecological crisis is also human crisis, as can be seen in Marta Buchaca’s dramatic monologue “Screams,” translated from the Catalan by H. J. Gardner, in which a humanitarian aid worker struggles to reconcile his Sisyphean efforts to help climate refugees with his more private but no less urgent demands that he fulfill his responsibilities as a husband and a father.
Many pieces in this issue are also hybrids—essays that verge on fiction, fictions that verge on poetry, poems that adapt and revivify the too-often-numbing prose of catastrophe—as hybridity itself is an emergent adaptive response to the threats posed by ecological disaster to cultural and biological diversity. Fabio Deotto’s essay begins with a possibly apocryphal card trick, and plays its own card tricks with the reader’s attention. CAConrad plays through the intersection of prose and poetry, performance and object, magic and recitation, human and not — offering poems written in partnership with a crow. Joseph Earl Thomas, Vanessa Place, and Eugene Lim plunge into the abrasive diction of disaster (ecological and racial) to recuperate some viable form of recognition. And Mercedes Dorame, in discussing her place-based “ceremonial interventions” with Mario Ontiveros, shows how space, time, nature, memory, and agency can be productively warped, re-worked, and re-woven through aesthetic practice.
Catastrophe is approached through fiction as well, that hybrid of language, time, consciousness, and imagination. Tempests strike in Xavier Navarro Aquino’s “A Death Foretold”, and in the excerpt from 619 Introduction Gina Apostol’s forthcoming novel, La Tercera. Omar El Akkad’s haunting “Oddsmaking” imagines a future where gamblers make their living betting on wildfires. And two other stories linger in the long-term effects of loss: Maryam Haidari’s “Hoor-al-Azim,” translated by Salar Abdoh, grapples with the costs of both desertification and war, while Austyn Wohlers’s “Loveless” takes a hard look at the damage climate despair and activist burnout can do to friendships.
Poetry, which at times seems the most endangered genre, nevertheless retains a privileged relation to our crisis precisely through its perpetual endangerment. Poetry speaks out of our pre-literate oneness with the nonhuman world and remains a primordial matrix of recuperative and revolutionary potential—political and ontological—for human being-in-the-world. In this issue, we are exceedingly pleased to count among our fellow backward-walking-visionaries-in-catastrophe Khairani Barokka, Johannes Goransson, Jennifer Schomburg Kanke, Soheil Najm, Alexis Orgera, Craig Santos Perez, and Derek Sheffield. I will say less about these poems than I have about the stories and essays because I am more inclined to let the work speak for itself, in itself, as is the prerogative of lyric. A story or essay may be summarized, if only at a remove; a poem must be experienced.
Finally, just as I promised to not waste your time with another litany of doom, I also won’t waste your time with what Jenny Offill called “the obligatory note of hope.” Is there hope? Should we hope? I’ll take my answer from Kafka: “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—only not for us.”
Nevertheless, here we are. The sun will come up tomorrow on another disaster, another community gutted by capital, another mountain burned bald, another toxic waste dump leaching into a playground, another storm, another flood, another mother wind-sheared with grief, another plague, another drought, another famine.
In the meantime, experience a poem. Read a story. These singular works speak to each other, and if we are both fortunate and attentive, we may be witness to and participants in the revelation of wisdom — a wisdom that may help us in our predicament, a wisdom that may help us face our ghastly future.
— Roy Scranton,
for the editors
The Fire Sermon, a poem by Vanessa Place
Beneath the Overstory, an essay by Rick Bass
That First Wildfire, an essay by Alex Kuo
from Ignition Chronicles, a ritual and three poems
from Three Rivers Lecture, an essay by Barry Lopez
On Facing Calamity: Thoreau, Merton, Lopez,
an essay by Laura Dassow Walls
Preschool Sonnet during the Pandemic,
a poem by Craig Santos Perez
Hoor-Al-Azim, an essay by Maryam Haidari,
translated by Salar Abdoh
Rt. 13, Late May and The Flooding of Lake Ella,
two poems by Jennifer Schomburg Kanke
The Jurassic Coast, an essay by Brian Turner
Glacier Haibun, a poem by Lisa Olstein
prayer for baby breath, a poem by Khairani Barokka
Screams, a monologue by Marta Buchaca,
translated from Catalan by H. J. Gardner
Art by Mercedes Dorame
with interview by Mario Ontiveros
Song for Boiling Frogs, fiction by Eugene Lim
On Ordinary Martyrs and the Defense of the Forests,
an essay by Rob Nixon
from Summer, poetry by Johannes Göransson
Loveless, a story by Austyn Wohlers
It’s Hot Out, a story by Christopher Ayala
How Did We Let This Happen?, an essay by Fabio Deotto
Wilson’s Warbler, a poem by Derek Sheffield
from The Book of Other, a poem by Alexis Orgera
A Death Foretold, a story by Xavier Navarro Aquino
On Watermarks and Fakes, an essay by Sarah E. Vaughn
Notes on Contributors
SALAR ABDOH’s last book was Out of Mesopotamia. He teaches at the City College of the City University of New York.
GINA APOSTOL has published four novels. Gun Dealers’ Daughter won the 2013 PEN/Open Book Award. Publishers Weekly named Insurrecto one of the ten best books of 2018. Her first two novels, Bibliolepsy and The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata, both won the Philippine National Book Award. “At the Hotel Sirena” is an excerpt from a forthcoming novel, La Tercera. She lives in New York City and Hadley, MA.
XAVIER NAVARRO AQUINO was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Named one of the writers to watch for fall 2021 by Publishers Weekly, Aquino is the author of the novel Velorio,out from HarperVia/HarperCollins and HarperCollins Español in January 2022. His fiction has appeared in Tin House magazine, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and Guernica. His poetry has appeared in The Caribbean Writer and is anthologized in Thicker Than Water: New Writing from the Caribbean by Peekash Press. He has been awarded scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a MacDowell Fellowship, and an American Council of Learned Societies Emerging Voices Fellowship at Dartmouth College.
CHRISTOPHER AYALA is a writer from Massachusetts. He is a former technology fellow and Juniper Fellow in Fiction at the MFA for Poets & Writers at UMass Amherst. He is the winner of the inaugural James W. Foley memorial prize and a recipient of a REAL Diversity Fellowship. His work has been performed at the HUT series in Northampton, MA, with writings published in Big Big Wednesday among others. Currently he teaches writing at Northeastern University.
KHAIRANI BAROKKA is a Minang-Javanese writer and artist from Jakarta whose work has been presented internationally. Her work centers disability justice as anti-colonial praxis. She is currently Research Fellow at University of the Arts London, Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing (UK), and UK Associate Artist at Delfina Foundation. Among her honors, she has been Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-in-Residence, a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change, an Artforum Must-See, and an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow. Okka’s books are Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis) and Rope (Nine Arches.) She has just published a poetry collection, Ultimatum Orangutan (Nine Arches.)
RICK BASS is the author of over thirty books and a founding board member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council and Save the Yellowstone Grizzly. He teaches in the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast low-residency MFA program. More information about the proposed Black Ram timber sale can be found at yaakvalley.org and protectancientforests.org.
MARTA BUCHACA is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and director, currently at work on a novel. Her monologue “Crits” was written in 2016 in response to a call for scripts by the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona in support of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms. A selection of her plays—including Summit, Litus, Rita, Girls Shouldn’t Play Soccer, and Sorry—is available in translation from Catalan Drama, a project of the Fundació Sala Beckett/Obrador Internacional de Dramatúrgia.
CACONRAD has been working with the ancient technologies of poetry and ritual since 1975. They are the author of AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (Wave Books). Other titles include While Standing in Line for Death and Ecodeviance. The Book of Frank is now available in nine different languages. They received a Creative Capital grant, a Pew Fellowship, a Lambda Literary Award, and a Believer Magazine Book Award. They teach at Columbia University in New York City and Sandberg Art Institute in Amsterdam.
FABIO DEOTTO is an Italian author, translator and journalist. After completing his studies in molecular biotechnologies, he began writing fiction and nonfiction, focusing on the intersections between sciences and humanities. His works have appeared in Wired, Esquire, Nuovi Argomenti, Corriere della Sera, and other publications. He is the translator of The Lost Tetrads of Marshall McLuhan by Eric and Marshall McLuhan, The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden, Climate Leviathan by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, and other works of nonfiction. He is the author of three novels, Condominio R39 (Einaudi) Un attimo prima (Einaudi), and L’altro mondo, La vits in un pianeta che cambia. He teaches creative writing at “Scuola Holden—Contemporary Humanities” in Turin. He lives in Milan.
MERCEDES DORAME is an artist who calls on her Tongva ancestry to engage the problem of (in)visibility and cultural construction. Her work is in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Hammer Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum. She is the recipient of many grants and fellowships, including ones from Creative Capital, the Montblanc Art Commission, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Galería de la Raza, for her solo exhibition there, and the Harpo Foundation for a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. She is currently visiting faculty at CalArts, and has shown her work internationally. Her writing has been featured in News From Native California, and 580 Split, and her artwork has been highlighted by PBS Newshour, Artforum, KCET Artbound, the New York Times, Art in America, and many others.
OMAR EL AKKAD is an author and journalist. His debut novel, American War, is an international bestseller and has been translated into thirteen languages. It was selected by the BBC as one of 100 novels that changed our world. His new novel, What Strange Paradise, was released in July 2021 and is longlisted for the Giller Prize.
JEANNINE HALL GAILEY is a poet with MS who served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Her work appeared in such journals as The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Find her online at www.webbish6.com, and on Twitter and Instagram.
H.J.GARDNER is a translator from Catalan. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied at the Universitat de Barcelona. Her previous collaborations with Marta Buchaca include the short play “Summit,” directed by Neil LaBute, which appeared at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre in New York City in 2017. She wishes to thank the Institut Ramon Llull and Sala Beckett-Obrador Internacional de Dramatúrgia in Barcelona for their continued support of theater in translation. Additional works can be found online at www.catalandrama.cat.
AMITAV GHOSH was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. He is the author of two books of nonfiction, a collection of essays, and ten novels. His books have won many prizes and he holds four honorary doctorates. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and he has served on the Jury of the Locarno and Venice film festivals. In 2018 he became the first Englishlanguage writer to receive India’s highest literary honor, the Jnanpith Award. His most recent publication is Jungle Nama, an adaptation of a legend from the Sundarban, with artwork by Salman Toor. His new book, The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, a work of nonfiction, is due to be published in October 2021. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, the writer Deborah Baker.
JOHANNES GÖRANSSON is the author of nine books of poetry and criticism, including the recent Poetry Against All and the forthcoming Summer. He is also the translator of several books, including works by Aase Berg, Helena Boberg, and Eva Kristina Olsson. His poems, translations, and critical writings have appeared in a wide array of journals in the US and abroad, including Fence, Lana Turner, Spoon River Review, Modern Poetry in Translation (UK), Kritiker (Denmark), and Lyrikvännen (Sweden). He is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Notre Dame and, together with Joyelle McSweeney, edits Action Books.
Born in 1984, MARYAM HAIDARI is an Iranian-Arab from the Khuzestan province of Iran. She is the translator into Persian, from Arabic, of noted Arab poets such as Mahmoud Darwish and Sargon Boulus, and also the translator of numerous Persian and Afghan poets, as well as Persian travel writers, into Arabic. She is the author of the collection Bab Muareb (A Door Ajar) and the recipient of the Arab world’s prestigious Ibn Battuta award in travel writing in 2018. Currently she is senior editor at Raseef 22, the premier journal of art, literature, history, and politics out of Beirut. She lives and works in Tehran, Iran.
JENNIFER SCHOMBURG KANKE, originally from Columbus, OH, lives in Tallahassee, FL, where she edits confidential documents for the government. Her work has recently appeared in New Ohio Review, Nimrod, and Salamander. Her chapbook Fine, Considering, about her experiences undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, is available from Rinky Dink Press. She serves on the board of directors for Anhinga Press.
ALEX KUO’s new novel, Cadenzas, was published this November.
BARRY LOPEZ was a celebrated author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including Arctic Dreams, winner of the National Book Award, and Horizon, published in 2019. His collection of essays will be published next year. Barry was recently inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and also received the first ever Writer in the World Award from the Sun Valley Writers’ Workshop. For fifty years he lived near the banks of the McKenzie River in western Oregon, his beloved home. Barry Lopez died on December 25, 2020.
EUGENE LIM is the author of the novels Fog & Car, The Strangers, Dear Cyborgs, and Search History. He works as a high school librarian, runs Ellipsis Press, and lives in Queens, NY.
ROB NIXON holds the Barron Family Professorship in Humanities and Environment at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Nixon writes frequently for the New York Times. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Nation, London Review of Books, Aeon, Truthout, Outside, Orion, Boston Review, Public Books, LitHub, Chronicle of Higher Education, TLS, and elsewhere. For the past twenty-five years Nixon’s work has been primarily focused on environmental justice, particularly in the global South.
SOHEIL NAJM is a poet, anthologist, and translator born in Baghdad in 1956. His books of poetry include Breaking the Phrase, Your Carpenter O Light, Black Paradise, and No Paradise outside the Window. His poems appeared in Atlanta Review, Sequence Magazine, and some literary websites. He had translated books of poetry, novels, and criticism from English into Arabic, including such authors as Ted Hughes, Nikos Kazantzakis, Jose Saramago, Alasdair Gray, Hilis Miller, Edward Said, and Billy Collins. He also translated three collections of poetry by Iraqi poets into English along with two anthologies, Flowers of Flame and Ishtar’s Songs, about Iraqi contemporary poetry published in Michigan, Austin and Baghdad.
LISA OLSTEIN is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection Late Empire (Copper Canyon Press) and the book-length lyric essay Pain Studies (Bellevue Literary Press). Climate, an exchange of epistolary essays with poet Julie Carr, is forthcoming in 2022, and Dream Apartment, a new collection of poems, is forthcoming in 2023. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA Program for Poets and Writers and a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Lannan Writing Residency, Pushcart Prize, and Writers League of Texas Book Award, she currently teaches in the MFA programs at the University of Texas at Austin.
ALEXIS ORGERA is a writer, editor, and publisher living in North Carolina. She’s the author of two poetry collections, How Like Foreign Objects and Dust Jacket, and a memoir-in-fragments, Head Case: My Father, Alzheimer’s & Other Brainstorms (Kore Press). She spends much of her free time walking in the woods, digging in the soil, and recently writing eco-apocalypse poems from the vantage of the near future.
SHAILJA PATEL is a queer, radical, internationalist, feminist from Kenya and the best-selling author of MIGRITUDE, currently taught in over 150 colleges and universities worldwide. Patel’s poems have been translated into seventeen languages and featured in the Smithsonian. Her performances have received standing ovations on four continents. Honored by the Nobel Women’s Initiative with a Global Feminist Spotlight, Patel is currently a research associate at Five College Women’s Studies Research Center and a Civitella Ranieri 2021–23 Fellow.
CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ is an indigenous Pacific Islander from Guam. He is the author of five books of poetry and the coeditor of five anthologies. He is professor of English at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.
VANESSA PLACE is an American writer and criminal defense appellate attorney. She has performed internationally, including at the Musée d’Orsay, the Getty Villa, and the Modern Museum of Art (New York), and published numerous books of poetry and prose.
DEREK SHEFFIELD’s collection Not for Luck was selected by Mark Doty for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. His other books include Through the Second Skin, finalist for the Washington State Book Award; Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy; and Cascadia: A Field Guide through Art, Ecology, and Poetry, which will be published in the spring of 2022. When he isn’t editing poetry for Terrain.org, Sheffield can often be found in the woods or rivers along the eastern slopes of the Cascades in Washington.
LEHUA M. TAITANO is a queer CHamoru writer and interdisciplinary artist from Yigu, Guåhan (Guam), familian Kabesa yan Kuetu, and co-founder of Art 25: Art in the Twenty-fifth Century. She is the author of Inside Me an Island and A Bell Made of Stones. Taitano’s work investigates modern indigeneity, decolonization, and cultural identity in the context of diaspora.
JOSEPH EARL THOMAS is a writer from Frankford whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Philadelphia Stories, Gulf Coast, The Offing, and The Kenyon Review. He has an MFA in prose from the University of Notre Dame and studies English in the PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania. His memoir, Sink, won the 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize, and he has received fellowships from Fulbright, VONA, Tin House, and Bread Loaf. He’s writing the novel God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer, and a collection of stories, Leviathan Beach, among other oddities.
BRIAN TURNER is the author of a memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country, and two collections of poetry, Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise. He’s the editor of The Kiss and co-edited The Strangest of Theatres. He’s published work in the New York Times, The Guardian, National Geographic, Harper’s, and other fine journals. He lives in Orlando, FL, with his dog, Dene.
SARAH E. VAUGHN is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research and teaching have made significant contributions to anthropology, the environmental humanities, and science and technology studies. She conducts ethnographic and archival research in the circum-Caribbean. Her research advances understandings of climate change in the region while tracking the affective, ethical, and political components of dignity and belonging. At stake in her research are questions about the role climate change has in shaping the materiality of expertise, an ethics of (re)distribution, and narrative form. Her forthcoming book Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation (Duke University Press, April) has been awarded the Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award. Her writing has appeared in Cultural Anthropology,
Critique of Anthropology, Annual Review of Anthropology, Environment and Planning E, and Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, among others.
LAURA DASSOW WALLS is the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches nineteenth-century American literature, particularly the American transcendentalists, and the history of ecological thought. She is the author of numerous essays on Thoreau, Emerson, Humboldt, and related figures; her book Henry David Thoreau: A Life (Chicago) received Phi Beta Kappa’s Christian Gauss Award and the Los
Angeles Times Book Award for Biography. Her other books include the award-winning The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (2009); Emerson’s Life in Science: The Culture of Truth (2003); and Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science (1995). Her current project is a literary biography of the contemporary American writer Barry Lopez.
AUSTYN WOHLERS is a writer from Atlanta, GA.