What will poetry be in ten thousand years? (9)

Kristen Gallagher

Cueva de las Manos - Santa Cruz, Argentina, ca. 7300 BC

Post-ecopoetics is a guide for thinking the longevity and durability of the poem in deep time. I have asked a number of poets and scholars to serve as additional guides by asking them to respond to the following questions: “What will poetry be in ten thousand years? If you wrote a poem that you knew would last ten thousand years, how would this impact your writing?”

Each of their responses will be posted as an individual commentary linked to this series.

Kristen Gallagher:

What will poetry be in ten thousand years? If you wrote a poem that you knew would last ten thousand years, how would this impact your writing?

Writing is a roll of the dice every time. The results will most likely be lost, but, hey, once you know you’re going to die, then to hell with it, right? Admit this, otherwise you’re not really doing it.

Experiment: I only write for people ten thousand years from now. After the nuclear wars and the ice all melts, the entire globe is tropical islands. I write for them, for the last one hundred people, for when they return to earth, generations later when they finally come down from the spaceship their rich great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents built for them, while the rest of humanity on earth perished.

They can find my words as they pick thru the rubble.

End Experiment. What would be the point of telling the future-beings that? What would I title my poem, Take Responsibility, Bitches? Or something friendly like So, How Was Space? 


Seen from the long view your question invites, my writing, as I understand it, will, like most of all writing ever written at any time, disappear from the readership. I’ve seen this born out repeatedly — in my studies and in my lived experienc — that what seems important today will be impotent in twenty years. So, facing ten thousand years, one should assume oneself dust from the get-go.

On the other hand, things are found, pulled from the rubbish heap of history every day. Did you know the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida was built to withstand being completely submerged in the ocean, so if the worst of global warming comes to pass, all that might be left is the Salvador Dali collection and the handwritten results of some surrealist games? 


It’s funny that so many of us have this compulsion to write. I was once so in the grip of my compulsion that I signed a contract with a bank to go into $200,000 debt to study the history of writing, and now, for slavish hours and pittance wages, I teach what I’ve learned to others.

So, I am a writer. And though, clearly, I am skeptical about the significance of my personal role as such, I do think human writing is an expression of something specific in the human makeup — and even if the human makeup is a shite adventure, an evolutionary mishap whose sacred evidence, the poem, will more likely end up the excellent garbage of a future-being, used to insulate its nest-like, post-apocalyptic, flood-ready future-home — it remains true that there is a possibility that writing is worth participating in, as evidence of the, so-called, human condition, if one feels so called to do that. It also true that one might do it as play, for no reason but just enjoyment, but even that might be interesting for any potential future-people to know, I guess. But on the question of any poem lasting ten thousand years, that’s such a hefty gamble.

I take a “who knows” attitude toward it. I tend to write as if it may or may not be useful, now or ever. I do what I enjoy, and little more. And with both the culture and the planet feeling on the brink of cataclysmic change, it’s especially hard to imagine writing lasting. Even the Internet buries things. 


That said, I do admit I already write with an archive in mind. I do imagine a future reader, and therefore, I suppose in spite of all the signs of impending doom, I do imagine a future. And in a deep, almost-primitive-feeling way, I know my writing is a desire for a commons. I imagine a future-commons, kind of a totalization of 1980s West Philly, a techno-hacker, punk-squatter sprawl-commons, where all resources and culture are shared across time, space, and difference.  

I write now from the vantage point of a culture which sees itself on the brink of collapse from its inside and destruction from its outside, in an unstable world with nuclear war capabilities, and on a planet whose ecosystem is changing, but in a political climate where leaders appear unable to develop a plan for survival at any level. And lately I’ve taken a more future-oriented view, writing a genre-fluid kind of sci-fi, ethnopoetics from a future in mid-eco-catastrophe. But perhaps I should go further. Maybe I should write my visions of the anarcho-future-commons.


The first time I read Gertrude Stein I was new to poetry. I remember reading her writing around time and writing, saying one should write one’s time and also consider the time in the writing, and I felt a deep compulsion, something activated, to “write time.” I couldn’t possibly nail down what that meant, but I wanted to take it up in every one of its possible meanings, and be open to it evolving. And I have noticed, looking back, that most of the time, I do write time, and I write my time as if I’m writing time, in a way that expresses the doing so.

I’ve noticed recently I’ve been imagining my writing as part of a time capsule from the distant future, sent back to my more immediate future, as a warning. But sometimes it’s also a beautiful image that gets sent back, from a world long past concern for survival, heaven on earth, where the commons is everything.


In terms of writing the present moment, with a future in mind, I’d go for a communicative, documentary style. Be aware! Pay attention! Learn to perceive instead of react, feel it out, be ready, develop a feel for layers and amalgamations, concentration as in dreams, heavy intersections, scenes that slow down time, find the language of the small movements of crashing, turning, stepping aside, a near miss, cut out and frame clogs in the flow of relations, small incarnations of the system, attempts at alternatives and their impediments. Other ways to describe it: George Perec’s “sociological writings” ZOOM IN on the tiny objects, scenes, and flows that reveal systems, basic truths, paradoxes, through lists of passersby, lost letters, fragments, images, found or invented testimony, transcription — anything archivists like. Batten down the hatches. Then pray there’s any archives left when the time comes.