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Toward a Poetics of the Anthropocene

Abstract from NYU Shanghai Faculty Lecture, based on talk given at Fudan University, on poetry, poetics and the Anthropocene. I remain unconvinced in my own work, by my own work, and of it, and that’s perhaps the point, the point that can only be to keep working:

In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, recent visiting lecturer Amitav Ghosh borrows a term from Timothy Morton to argue that events like climate change constitute “hyperobjects,” networked entities that too extensive spatially and temporally for our existing ways thinking and writing to comprehend adequately. Recent literary fiction, Ghosh argues, fails to engage with the new realities of anthropogenic climate change. This presentation extends Ghosh’s line of questioning to contemporary poetry and the Anthropocene, moving toward establishing a provisional historical and theoretical framework for a “poetics of the anthropocene” with examples drawn from contemporary poetry, including several of my own recent pieces, most notably “Hello 2015” and other work featured in my recent publication Expat Taxes.

David Perry poetry and the anthropocene Expat Taxes

“The Verses” and “What’s an Expat”

Richard Roundy continues to publish some of my long-time — and newly — favorite poets as poetry editor of the young webzine Across the Margin, and I’m grateful to join poets from Kit Robinson and Alan Bernheimer to Allison Cobb to Aaron Simon to Lewis Warsh and Paul Maziar, just to name a very few, with the second of two sets of poems.  “The Verses” is excerpted from the long poem “Hello 2015” (a good-sized chunk of which appeared in the April Brooklyn Rail), while “What’s an Expat” makes its debut; both appear the now-available collection Expat Taxes (also available on Amazon). Read “The Verses” and “Hello 2015” here.


Monika Lin, “Exemplars #7,” 2013, woodcut print, detail.

Expat Taxes

David Perry - Expat Taxes - poetry

Cover image and design: Monika Lin

Expat Taxes is officially out and available on Amazon and via Seaweed Salad Editions. The book collects poems written over the past decade of living in Shanghai and is anchored by the long poem “Hello 2015” (a chunk of which The Brooklyn Rail published last April).

The original plan was to publish “Hello” as a chapbook, but we soon realized that a number of short poems — some of them published in little magazines, others not — worked well with the longer piece. The book is part of the larger French (Concession) Press project.

This publication also marks the resumption of the Seaweed Salad Editions project, which will expand to publish poetry, alternating between bilingual editions of poetry in translation and volumes of innovative new writing in English (or perhaps better put, one of the many Englishes in currency circa now).

It’s a low-key affair, this publication. At present, I’ll be reading from the book at a launch event in Guangzhou at APTW 2016, celebrating alongside the authors of two other new books, Joshua Ip (Singlish poetry!) and Alexandra Gregori. A Shanghai event is in the works, as is a spring Shanghai International Literary Festival poetry group event. If the health, money, and travel gods smile upon me, there may also be some late spring/early summer readings in the US.

Good to have work that’s been sitting around for a while out, and better to have it out with fresh work. Best to be looking ahead to building Seaweed Salad into a full-blown small press! Any poets or poetry translators or poet-translators interested in future plans for publication of books of poetry in translation, inquire via the Seaweed Salad site. We’ll be starting with a Chinese language poet but beyond that, opening things up. There will be more on future publication plans coming this fall. Stay tuned….

And last and not least, deepest thanks to my partner in life, work, art, and writing, Monika Lin, without whom this book would not have happened.

“Nike Vapor Lunar Trout” and “The Johns”

Richard Roundy has been publishing some of my long-time — and newly — favorite poets as poetry editor of the young webzine Across the Margin, and I’m honored to join poets from Kit Robinson and Alan Bernheimer to Allison Cobb to Aaaron Simon to Lewis Warsh and Paul Maziar, just to name a very few, with the first of two sets of poems. “Nike Vapor Lunar Trout” is in the forthcoming collection Expat Taxes; “The Johns,” written in collaboration with Noah Eli Gordon (his version appears in his book The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom).

Monika Lin, Balance Boy #1 detail, 2010.

Monika Lin, Balance Boy #1 detail, 2010.

Get to the point (don’t think of an elephant, don’t think of a donkey) [12-minute trigger]

12-minute trigger is a daily writing project: 1) set the timer for 12 minutes and write soon after waking up; 2) see what happens; 3) continue or don’t (but wrap it up fairly quickly, regardless, as one must get on with one’s day); and 4) lightly edit and post here (or don’t: sometimes it’s too personal or too messy, sometimes the writing is too weak, sometimes I’m too busy).

Where to start amidst endless forking paths, within a matrix of portals and jumps and connections that can be triggered, opened, closed, skipped, revealed as traps? Where to start with the mind?

This is the “point” to meditation – yet the point is not a point at all, at least in the popular sense of a single clear and comprehensible end or claim or opinion, as in get to the point. The point, then, is (as has been said to the point of cliché) the “process,” in which one is aware less and less of that which one desires or wishes to be and more and more of what appears to be happening where and when one finds oneself.

“To find oneself”: another idiom that risks cliché. There’s the useful everyday sense of “I found myself doing x” as the result of a sequence of events (a sequence that may remain opaque, as in “how in the world did you find yourself doing x?”). But then there’s the cliché sense – originating in the sixties’ pop-spiritualities, I imagine – of “finding oneself” that rests upon a (likely) fundamental misassumption. The assumption is that there is a stable and enduring (eternally, even, in the form of a soul of a particular kind) self-to-be-found; one counter to that is that there is, let’s say, a particular arrangement of or expression of forces – energy-matter unfolding in space-time – that takes particular transitional shapes and moves in shifting directions into and out of various modes or states, and that consciousness is one shape and direction and mode or state of the arrangement and expression of those forces among many (infinitely many, or might as well be).

Meditation – in my exceedingly limited experience – may provide some means to some partial “observation” of this, with observation being not-quite-the-right word given that the subject-object relation becomes (and this is the point) unstable and liable to momentary collapse when one arrives at (or rather very briefly passes through or into) a particular state of mind, one in which the question of “where to start” may momentarily [lost in transcription ] to have stable or meaningful point.

Old glass and window screen

Old glass and window screen

Kansas City: Earth Laughs in Flowers (12-minute trigger)

Kansas City

12-minute trigger is a daily writing project: 1) set the timer for 12 minutes and write soon after waking up; 2) see what happens; 3) continue or don’t (but wrap it up fairly quickly, regardless, as one must get on with one’s day); and 4) lightly edit and post here (or don’t).

Train and traffic sounds. The neighbor’s birdbath fountain’s water sound, manmade to the ear, too clearly the pouring of water into water for the sake of making a soothing sound of flowing water. It comes out sounding like an overflowing tub or sink, or a toilet that won’t stop running. The traffic on this Kansas City Monday morning is a distant, constant hum. The freight trains announce their presence periodically with horn blasts from several miles off. A dog barks. Cicadas and birds, too, a constant sound. It’s a cool enough morning following last night’s thunderstorm that I don’t hear any air conditioner compressors running: a rare and pleasant absence on a Kansas City July morning. I’m on my mother’s porch, her garden in its fullness all around, hanging ferns and potted plants distributed across the porch, larger planters bursting with green and flashes of yellow, white, magenta, to my left on the brick patio I built nearly 30 years ago, when this was our house, my family’s house. Now there’s my father’s house, my sister’s house, my mother’s house, and the apartment I live in with my wife and daughter in Shanghai. A woman in her 60s – fit-looking, short curly hair, shorts and a light top – strides past on the sidewalk, led by her dog, a good-sized hound, his chain lightly sounding out with that cool near-hiss sound smooth and light metal links make when they move against themselves. The thunderstorm has apparently broken what the media meteorologists were calling the heat dome, a weather system that has kept KC – and much of the country – in the upper 90s for the past week or so, with many regions to the west, in Kansas and Nebraska, running well into the 100s. It’s summer as I have always known it, yes: hot and humid Midwest summer. But it’s also a summer that feels on the brink of something that neither I nor anyone else have known, except in stories, in the fantasy and sci-fi and religious narratives that speak of the apocalyptic, the dystopian, the transformative. And yet, now, as another freight train calls out, its horn warm and round and soft in tone as it pushes through the humid air from tracks running miles away, nudging (Continued)

Four poems in The Brooklyn Rail

The Brooklyn Rail has published three new poems and an excerpt from HELLO 2015. The short ones — “Ghost Burning,” “Sea Lyric” and “Block the Entrances” appear in print and online; the first half of HELLO 2015 is online only.

Virtual Panoptical Network


A US American friend says of the VPN service she’s using on her visit to Shanghai that it seems legit, that they seem legit, as, you know, a little company, not — if I get her implied meaning right — something necessarily obliquely sponsored, facilitated, or even outright run by a covert arm of US-Western power. The company’s website felt legit to her because of several minor infelicities of English grammar — just enough to make it seem like a company run by edgy Asian IT guys who just want information to be free, not by slick operatives in the employ of a meddling Western NGO fronting for the NSA, working to undermine China… That kind of “kind of thing” thing, you know? At least that’s what I thought, later, misremembering. And though I didn’t follow the logic that seemed to suggest itself to me (would really bad English or professionally edited copy both cause more paranoia?), I could vibe with her feeling, because of course it was my feeling, too, or perhaps alone. You have to trust someone, after all, or you might go crazy, right? Especially in a country like this and from a country like that. What’s the mind to do? (Continued)