Matthew Griffiths answered some questions for us about The New Poetics of Climate Change: Modernist Aesthetics for a Warming World, now out in the Environmental Cultures series.
How would you describe your book in one sentence?
Poets need more sophisticated ways of writing to engage with climate change, and Modernism provides valuable resources for them to do so.
What drew to you writing about this subject?
I’d done a master’s in creative writing, focusing on poetry, and then went into publishing, where I worked as a sub-editor on a number of environmental science magazines. Climate change was an increasingly prominent issue in the material I was editing, and I wondered how I could reconcile that with what I was writing (and reading) as a poet. Most poems “about” climate change, whether mine or those of others, seemed simply to rehash familiar ideas from the press and TV. I could see nothing distinctive about them as poems, and I thought the potential that poetry offers was not being used.
How long have you been researching it? How did you come to study it?
I started my PhD at Durham in 2009, so about eight years ago, but had done a fair bit of critical reading before that. Although I had been introduced to a number of stimulating approaches to texts while I was an undergraduate at Birmingham – such as feminist, postcolonial and Marxist critiques – there was nothing specifically about the environment. It was only after I had been out of academia for some years that I came across the concept of “ecocriticism”; once I did, I realised that was for me.
What does your book focus on that hasn’t been explored elsewhere?
Climate change and Modernism had received next to no attention in ecocriticism when I started my research, and I think they had both been overlooked because they didn’t fit with the discipline’s initial, Romantic vision of nature. That was starting to change by the time I was finalising the book, but my particular interest is in how climate change retrospectively alters our conception of Modernism (and, indeed, literature), which I don’t think anyone else has attempted. I’ve also put together a brief survey of contemporary climate change poems in the final chapter, and again, to my knowledge, this has not been done elsewhere.
What initially drew you to Literary Studies?
I’ve always enjoyed reading – and writing! – and getting a greater understanding of the way texts and language work fascinates me. My mum did her English degree as a mature student while I was at school, and I could see how thoroughly it engaged her, so that was another inspiration. And despite – or perhaps because of – all my hard years at words, I’ve never lost my interest.
Which Bloomsbury Lit Studies books have you read? Which are your favorites, and why?
Timothy Clark’s Ecocriticism on the Edge was out just in time for me to cite in my book – it’s an incisive critique of some problematic assumptions that still persist in the field, and I was excited to read it. For the sake of disclosure, I should say he was my PhD supervisor … though this was one book he didn’t have to force me to read!
Matthew Griffiths is a poet and literary critic. His book The New Poetics of Climate Change is now available from Bloomsbury.