Writing Poetry in the Anthropocene

Portmarnock Strand in Shadow

“Well, friend, we’re here again —

sauntering the last half-mile to the land’s frayed end”

from Fianuis by Kathleen Jamie.

In her article ‘Sound Waves: “Blue Ecology” in the Poetry of Robin Robertson and Kathleen Jamie’, Alexandra Campbell unpacks several new terms and ecocritical concepts which she applies to contemporary Scottish ecopoetics. Campbell uses Jonathan Bate’s proposal that ecopoetics should orient itself to an ethic of ecological listening as a gateway to Kathleen Jamie’s The Tree House, which is striking for its aural oceanic mimesis. The first poem in this collection -“The Wishing Tree” contains a declaration of poetic intent to move “towards the Atlantic”, espousing a blue ecology, in contrast to “the wilderness nor fairyland”.

Blue ecology is an attempt to address what some theorists term a preoccupation of ecocriticism with ‘landed’ or green texts. Bodies of knowledge tend to be products of the era in which they were developed. First-wave ecocriticism priviledged the concept of place and rootedness, a holistic view of ecology and an earth-based human geography. As the discipline has advanced and ecology itself has shifted to a paradigm of systemic complexity and instability, contemporary ecocriticism has in turn imagined a more dynamic dialectic.

Models of blue ecology range from the ‘Shipwreck Modernity’ of Steve Mentz to Brayton’s submarine locales to Brathwaite’s tidalectics. For Peters and Steinberg it takes ‘space, time, and motion’ as its key organizing principles.

Tidalectics is an alternative historiographic definition available to theorists which applies ‘space, time and motion’ to island cultures. Uncovering the submerged, the marginal and shifting elements in island archipelagoes it moves the emphasis from the seas and oceans as mere transition routes to the status of oikos and site in itself.

to be ocean-stealers, to never throw a shadow — 

to dream the blank horizon and dread the sight of  land.

from the fishermen’s farewell by Robin Robertson


Bate, Jonathan (2001), Song of the Earth, London, Pan Macmillan.

Brathwaite, Kamu in Naylor, Paul (1999) Poetic Investigations: Singing the Holes in History, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, page 143.

Brayton Daniel (2011) “Shakespeare and the Global Ocean”, in L. D. Bruckner and D. Brayton (eds), Ecocritical Shakespeare, Farnham, Ashgate, pp. 173–90.

Campbell, Alessandra, ‘Sound Waves: “Blue Ecology” in the Poetry of Robin Robertson and Kathleen Jamie ‘, Études écossaises [online], 19 | 2017.

Jamie, Kathleen (2004) The Tree House, London, Picador.

Mentz Steve (2015) Shipwreck Modernity: Ecologies of Globalization, 1550–1719, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Peters Kimberley & Steinberg Peter (2015) “Wet Ontologies, Fluid Spaces: Giving Depth to Volume Through Oceanic Thinking”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 33, pp. 247–64.