Editor’s Notes & Cover Art

Editor’s Notes: Literature and the Anthropocene

Prophecy generally makes me cringe. Too many people in our world are too very certain about, well, everything that’s coming next.

Yet one exception does stand before us and it’s all but impossible to imagine an alternative path: for generations ahead humanity’s attention will be focused as never before on the changing natural world. And literature, our richest mode of attention and inquiry and challenge, will be fully engaged as well.

It’s true, of course, that from the beginning of time writers, perhaps especially poets, have addressed nature in all its beauty and terrors, its caresses and indifference and unfathomability. But only now, in our own time, do we find the physical world changing, not according to its own rules and rhythms, but in retreat from the algorithms of industrial depredation. Thus, we are ourselves central players in what may come to be known as the “Anthropocene,” a term coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the current epoch, “in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities.”[1] Usually I find such neologisms cringe-worthy as well, but in this case the scale of loss and the deliberate verbal artifice of the term may render it less unpalatable.

As one response to these vast and accelerating changes we offer in this issue a special section of EcoPoetry, work that self-consciously addresses the relationship between the human and the natural world, gathered by our poetry editor David Baker. This is the second iteration—last year’s received wide acclaim—and my intention is that it will be an ongoing feature in our pages.

In addition, this coming summer the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop will offer an innovative program in nature writing. Collaborating with scientists at Kenyon College’s Brown Family Environmental Center, the new workshop will offer talented writers a mix of scientific investigation, in labs and wetlands and woodland paths, along with time and strategies for writing about their experiences and inspirations.

And finally, at least for now, I am delighted to announce an even bolder collaboration. As part of the annual Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement celebration on November 3, 2016 at the Rainbow Room in New York City, we will introduce a new award presented by the Kenyon Review in association with the Nature Conservancy. For her monumental biography The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf will receive the inaugural James Wright Award for Nature Writing. Named for one of America’s great poets, the award honors a book of prose or poetry of surpassing literary insight into the human relationship with nature and the environment.

As you can see, going forward we intend to be fully engaged in the literary attempts—which will be as disparate as the world itself—to grasp the full significance of the Anthropocene.

[1] Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy

On the Cover

Brett Ryder studied at Camberwell College of Arts, London, and then took his masters at Central Saint Martins College of Art, London. His day-to-day output can be found in the pages of newspapers and magazines around the world. He has illustrated weekly columns throughout his career and is currently involved with both the Economist and the Telegraph. He works from a studio in Brighton, surrounded by books and vintage motorcycle parts.

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter