HOTB2020 Panel 3.2: Literatures and Poetics of Energy



Panel 3.2: Literatures and Poetics of Energy

“Crudely Written: A Petro-Poetry Survey”

Connor Weightman (Charles Sturt University)

“Nuclear Storyworlds: Writing (Radio)Toxic Wilderness in Mary Mycio’s Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl (2005)”

Hannah Klaubert (Stockholm University and Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen)

“Rig Talk as Disidentification in Peter Christensen’s Rig Talk and Mathew Henderson’s The Lease”

Melanie Dennis Unrau (Columbia University)

“Humanizing the Non-Human: Aesthetic Reflections of the Anthropocene in Contemporary Petrofiction””

Lisa Schantl (University of Graz)



Q & A

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9 replies
  1. Massih Zekavat says:

    Dear Lisa,
    I had a chance to watch your intriguing presentation. Thank you.
    Early in your presentation, you seem to assume that the culture/nature binary can be overcome, but you continue to found your contention on the bipolarity of the femininity of the earth and masculinity of drilling and oil production. This is even more significant when considering that most oil producing cultures are patriarchal. How do you explain this?

  2. Katie Reschenhofer says:

    @Connor: Thank you for this great presentation. It made me go dig out my copy of Tess Onwueme Osonye’s “What Mama Said”. I particularly like the witty title of your talk!
    Do you think ecopoetry has the potential to reach wider audiences than prose or plays about similar issues?

    • Connor Weightman says:

      Thanks Katie! And thank you for the recommendation, I have added Onwueme’s book to my reading list.

      I’m not sure I can answer your question about wider audiences. I think it is a lot to hope that poetry might win a popularity contest with fiction. I do think here – and in the case of other problems of monstrous scale like climate change – ecopoetry might be able to represent the complexities of the problems in ways that more narrative-heavy forms may struggle with. But then, getting it to readers and convincing them to read poetry is always another bridge to cross.

  3. Stacey Balkun says:

    Connor, thank you so much for your insights here (and for helping my reading list grow). I have become very interested in longer ecopoetic works as well as those that utilize collage elements (notably Marthe Reed’s ARK HIVE). I would love to continue the conversation on form and length: why are so many ecopoets relying on collage elements and found text as well as the long length of several of the poems noted here?

    • Connor Weightman says:

      Hi Stacey. I wonder if, generally, collage and found elements are seem more prevalent because of the growing impulse to organise material from an overabundance of information. Information is very available but also obscured – by other information, by sensorial experiences, by ideological counternarratives and so on. Perhaps writing ecopoetry at the present moment must always in some ways be trying to reconcile lived/imagined experiences of the “natural world” with knowledge that exists beyond the sensorial field, and so incorporating found material and collage techniques is an appealing method. What are your thoughts?

      Re: length, I wonder if there’s a certain practical necessity of needing the extra space to make sense of complex ecological problems with the body of a poem – much as the problems themselves are complicated and operating on multiple scales with numerous agents and victims etc, representation requires length to make sense of these situations. (If you’re interested, I also have a paper on this issue: )

  4. Melanie Dennis Unrau says:

    Dear co-panelists,

    I am delighted to be on this panel with you and to hear your very fine papers. I have been meaning to write with some responses since last week, so I regret that I am writing this message with the details of your papers not as fresh in my memory as I intended. Please forgive (and feel free to point out) any errors.

    Connor, we obviously have similar research interests, and I like your observations about the long poem and representing oil. After hearing your paper, I went back and read Spahr’s That Winter the Wolf Came, which I read before I became interested in petropoetics. Wow! Do you know Karen Solie’s poem “Bitumen”? It’s available online here: I’m also interested in Rita Wong’s book undercurrent, a book about water that is also about oil, and what you would think about how that project gets around or gets at the “large plot” of oil. I am in touch with some other scholars studying oil poetics in Canada and the U.S., and I will try to find you online to connect you, too. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

    Hannah, I found your reflections on a new nature writing tuned to ambiguity and loss really compelling. Would you be willing to share about some of the other texts and sites of radiotoxicity you are working on in your research?

    Lisa, I share some of your enthusiasm for the agency (or perhaps I prefer animacy) of nonhuman objects—I am especially interested in thinking some more about the implications of treating fosssil fuels as inanimate objects, and therefore also about why it matters to conceive of them as more lively than has been allowed for in colonial-capitalist-patriarchal-extractivist understandings of a dead nature available as inanimate resources. It is neat to see the liveliness of both fossil fuels and the means of their extraction in the texts you study—and also important to recognize the role that the feminization of land/nature factors in to extraction—but I would be interested to hear more from you about the “so what” of such recognitions of animacy. How does it inform a politics for addressing the problems of the Anthropocene that you describe? Or how does it serve or subvert the project or the genre of petrofiction?

    • Connor Weightman says:

      Agreed that this was an excellent panel to be part of, and I regret taking so long to engage with it.

      Melanie – I was beyond pleased to come across your thesis while researching for this presentation, and I really enjoyed reading it. It was exciting to find out that there was already so much oil worker poetry! Thank you also for linking “Bitumen” – it’s an immense poem and very pertinent – and I’ll be sure to check out undercurrent too. Also yes, please get in touch. My email is connortweightman at gmail dot com.

      Re: your presentation, I thought your readings of the excerpts were very insightful. Do you think disidentification might have implications for petropoetry (and petroliterature more generally) beyond the figure of the worker?

  5. Jessica Hurley, George Mason University says:

    Thank you to all of the speakers for this great panel! I have a question for Hannah about the question that you raised at the end of your talk, when you asked how literature evokes the structure of feeling of living in the radiotoxic present. I would love to hear more about this, and particularly in relation to nature writing like the text that you analyzed in your talk. Does nature writing have a particular structure of feeling, do you think, a structure of feeling that’s different from other genres? Does description offer different affordances for evoking or theorizing a structure of feeling than, say, narrative?

    • Hannah Klaubert says:

      Hello Jessica, many thanks for your questions and apologies for the late response – I was lucky enough to get away from my desk and out into nature for a couple of days. The expression “structure of feeling” is borrowed from the conclusion of Molly Wallace’s Risk Criticism, where she talks about the value and affordances of literature to capture life in Beck’s “world risk society” (and living in a potentially contaminated environment is living with risk and uncertainty). She argues that (fictional) literature is particularly equipped to engage readers emotionally and morally in ‘risky’ environmental scenarios. This is explored in more detail by “affective ecocriticsm”, as theorized by Alexa Weik von Mossner and others, which in turn is at least partly influenced by (cognitive) narratology.

      In my thesis, I explore under this theoretical framework how nuclear accidents are discussed as crises of knowledge about the environment (and thus of a straightforward affective relationship with it), both on a genre level (thrillers, crime novels, …) and through narrative strategies (unreliable narration, multiple possible worlds, …) – but the texts I discuss in that particular chapter are all fiction. It would indeed be interesting to think more about non-fiction and specifically nature writing in that regard, which used to want to foster a positive emotional tie to certain natural environments through close and poetic description. What is the affective relationship fostered through “nature writing in the Anthropocene”, through what Voie calls “narratives of confrontation”? What are the narrative devices used for this confrontation? I think description (across different temporal and spatial scales) might indeed play an important role there. I am thinking about Clark’s chapters on scale and “Anthropocene disorder” in Ecocriticism on the Edge, and about “narration across species scales” by David Herman. I’ll think about this further and will try to come up with a clearer answer (which is not just more questions) in the future!

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