Michaela Frey, Universität Basel

Precarious Bodies. Nature and Corporeality in British Poetry since 2000

The dissertation project adds to a vibrant conversation in the contemporary literary studies about the challenging nature of nature poetry in the twenty-first century. Concomitant to the entrance of the term Anthropocene in environmental debates in 2000, British poetry shows an increasing interest in sounding the conceptions of the human and the nonhuman world. Posing questions about agency, coexistence and scale, an anthropocentric discourse urges poets to find a language that does justice to our times of environmental crisis without falling back on mere idealising illusions.

By looking at four distinctive poets ­– Alice Oswald, Sinéad Morrissey, Kathleen Jamie and Ruth Padel – my project seeks to explore how the environment is represented in contemporary British poetry and which poetological ideas are connected to it. Their works not only share a common focus on the materiality of things, animals, plants and humans as they draw a fragile web of human and nonhuman worlds. In doing so, the poetic texts, I argue, also show a particular interest in pointing out the precarity and vulnerability of human and nonhuman bodies, that dwell in an environment in crisis. By appropriating the insights of theoretical considerations from “Ecofeminism”, “New Materialism” and phenomenology, my analysis concentrates on the representation of bodily precarity and vulnerability, as well as the poetic voice and form. As a result, the project also examines to what extent a materialist approach in contemporary environmental poetry finds a way to write about the world in times of crisis.


keywords: new nature writing; ecopoetry; new materialism; corporeality; precarity