Adam Dickinson

'Prickly new cells'

Diffractive reading and writing in Juliana Spahr's 'The Transformation'

One of my white blood cells amidst many red ones. Microscope photograph produced with the assistance of Jeff Stuart and Lucas Maddalena in Jeff Stuart's laboratory at Brock University.

Some of the most extreme acts of writing now being composed in the capitalist Anthropocene are being performed by petrochemicals. What does it look like to write in response to this writing? How do we “make oil a more conceptually powerful part of our knowing,” as Imre Szeman suggests must happen as part of any larger political activism?[1]

Too much information

My chemical and microbial romance

Cover Image for Anatomic
‘Anatomic’: Cover Image

Anatomic is an attempt to think of writing in a more expanded way by incorporating the results of chemical and microbial testing on my body into poems that examine, through personal, biological, industrial, and cultural contexts, how the “outside” writes the “inside” in necessary and toxic ways. I offer my experiences working on this book as one perspective on some of the aesthetic, procedural, and formal concerns associated with this series of commentaries on metabolic poetics.

I got the idea to test myself for chemicals and microbes shortly after I had completed a book of poetry about plastics. While researching The Polymers, I became acquainted with endocrine disrupting chemicals (hormone mimics) and their relationship to plastic materials, cosmetics, and other common consumer products.

Anatomic is an attempt to think of writing in a more expanded way by incorporating the results of chemical and microbial testing on my body into poems that examine, through personal, biological, industrial, and cultural contexts, how the “outside” writes the “inside” in necessary and toxic ways. I offer my experiences working on this book as one perspective on some of the aesthetic, procedural, and formal concerns associated with this series of commentaries on metabolic poetics.

Metabolic pathways

Poetry and permeability

Test tube filled with blood
A sample of my blood. Photo credit: Jimmy Limit.

Oil is a form of writing. I know this because I can read it in my blood, urine, and shit. As part of research for a recent book, I tested myself for a wide range of chemicals. I also had my microbiome sequenced. I found petrochemical pollution in my blood and urine in the form of pesticides, flame retardants, phthalates, and more. I discovered evidence in my gut of shifted microbial communities associated with aspects of the Western diet. I wrote about what I found in a book called Anatomic, which I will discuss in more detail in the next post.

Of the relational local (1 of 2)

A resurgent ecopoetics post-conference ‘plenary’

In “Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache,” Juliana Spahr offers a narrative of the displacement of human imagination defined by creaturely and vegetal affiliation and transelemental immersion in the natural world. Lists of nonhuman species imply an abundant, connective world, and these same are beseeched not to “add to heartache,” prior to their replacement by chemical-industrial products later in the poem.  “We come into the world / and there it is” – the poem’s opening lines prompt.

The periodic table of poetry

Pictures of the Periodic Table of Elements picnic table outside of the Chemistry
Pictures I took of the Periodic Table of Elements picnic table outside of the Chemistry Department at Wake Forest University.

In 1869, the first version of the Periodic Table of Elements was created by Dmitri Mendeleev to illustrate the known chemical elements of the time and predict new ones. Elements are distinguished by having a single type of atom, and as they are discovered by scientists, the table grows. But what of the elements classified and discovered by poets, elements not made of atoms but language? Is poetry a kind of periodic table of language where poets chart, predict, and make elements as alchemists? Perhaps the P.T.O.E. is itself a P.O.E.M. 

One under-acknowledged and yet groundbreaking phenomenon of our time is that, in addition to some poets responding to science as a way to think about language, poetry, and science in more novel ways, some poets are practicing science by making poetry and therefore making something else from practicing both science and poetry at the same time.

Writing social plastics

Cultural polymers in the visual poems of Adam Dickinson

from The Polymers by Adam Dickinson
from The Polymers

Gliding over crystals, deking around the cool surface. The sibilant shriek of skate blades: SSS.  A choreography of improvised play. Sidthetic molecules, bonded by a fan's-eye view of hockey sticks, fond frond-shadows Family-Circling over the ice-white page.

Open rink poetics. Not the path of the breath, but the darting, deking movement of thought, culture, NHLanguage. Meme will rock you. We shinny through refereeing referents, referencing the nervous (plas)tics of culture, the polymurmurs of process, pro sports, Prospero's magicking and puckish hex-agonists. Language's ludic overtime. The lingual powerplay where there seems to always be one missing.

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