Climate Poetry: Radiated Beauty

What is poetry doing amidst the irradiated beauty of Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean? Isn’t it the weakest means of commemorating American nuclear testing after World War II?

The German-American poet Paul-Henri Campbell already answered this in “warme atolle”, a five-part cycle of his last volume “interne organe” (Wunderhorn), with reference to a “register of unreasonable desecrations”. How else should art prove its entitlement to develop a sense of the paradises of this world if it doesn’t also have the devastation in view – “you know the black gazetteer”.

The Frankfurt poet Judith Hennemann, born in 1975, now turns to the Marshall Islands in “Better not wait for King Tide”, the title cycle of her third volume of poetry. Her texts, mostly just justified, sometimes fitted into the silhouette of the Federal Republic, unfold their associative power on the basis of thorough research.

They gain their topicality not least from the fact that the Runit Dome, the plutonium-filled concrete sarcophagus on the island of the same name, has cracked. The climate-related risk of flooding the island makes the situation even more dangerous.

Hennemann, who is an industrial sociologist by trade, thinks past and present seamlessly together and, when it comes down to it, breaks ground in other regions.

“It’s raining exploded coral and smoking/salt water,” it says. “Shot the island ready for a storm, Wide Entrance / Deep Entrance, Downside. King Judah speaks: / Everything is in God’s hands. King Tide weighs / his head, takes the used land. / A gap in the jaws of the archipelago. The Pacific sucks / on the aching tooth. Buried chiefs / return. Majuro reappears, breathless, / trembling. On the Portland cement beach / Coke and Sake bottles gleam with magical immigration documents. After all the poison is already in me.”

The cycle of “Delta Laws” on the world’s largest storm surge defenses in the Netherlands also fits into the genre of climate poetry. There are also much more personal texts – some of them in English to try out a fresh form of speaking.

As in her 2017 debut “Bauplan für something Else” from 2017, fields of words and knowledge charged with technical language intersect with personal impressions. As already indicated in the follow-up volume “all the golden dogs”, she has become even more confident in the processing of the material.

The amalgamation of such different areas as natural history and the history of technology, genome decoding, neurosciences and big data reflections, which sometimes seemed forced at the time, takes place here as a matter of course. “Daily schooling in perplexity” is a verse that could serve as a motto. But these poems also contain the beginning of resistance.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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