Weather Inventions versus Charnel Surveys
by Jonathan Pierce
In many ways, Emily Rosko’s Weather Inventions (Akron Series in Poetry) is a superficially inviting text, operating on and across lines of “pristine silk”, threading and “floating in the utopic blue.”
Rosko seems to want to both concretize and lyricize “weather” (qua the ambiental surround) with a discrete engaugement with it, as when she describes a world—at least human, if not also more-than—as consisting in “Everything measured, orbital, bracing itself / around the one fool truth the sun unmakes / in its solar flare-ups.” We, at least, know the world—if there is a world—through these devices, gauges, inventions; and perhaps, Rosko suggests, the therion might as well: “The ferns, though, journaled it / all.”
Certainly, if the non-anthropic does not know the world in this fashion, it can—given such agency—regard the world; but a central question that emerges within Weather Inventions is for whom this regard exists. We see other examples of ambiental or biological gauging, indeed, but their products often become centered on the human voyeur: “All chances / numbered, and such unreal / possibility the leaves / uncount, sewn tree / to tree. Each line / of pristine silk the marvel of / we wake to see.” In this anthropic instrumentalizing, however accidental it might seem—a product of gaze eliding with gauge, perhaps; though lines such as “A tulip: singular instrument / of color” argue otherwise—are the spaces where Rosko’s lyric seems regressive, lacking neither the theoretical weight to locate itself in a discourse of the real-qua-discursive, nor the ecological accord to release her poems from the weight of anthropo-scenarizing.
While these issues might seem minimally at stake in other sorts of work, a cycle of poems published in 2018 about weather cannot escape a single, related fact—glaring in its omission—as Rosko tries to think through “the beauty of being / and the difficult spaces in between”, spaces she casts as the foregrounds and backgrounds of a nature “between the winds lived in.” It is a fact nakedly yet uncannily obvious: the anthropogenic warming of the planet. And it is not merely a political or ideological omission, but a theoretical lack. As Timothy Morton argues in Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World:
In an age of global warming, there is no background, and thus there is no foreground. It is the end of the world, since worlds depend on backgrounds and foregrounds. World is a fragile aesthetic effect around whose corners we are beginning to see. True planetary awareness is the creeping realization not that ‘We Are the World,’ but that we aren’t.
On the one hand, Rosko’s poems certainly seem to operate in a world, with attendant foreground and background: “the flurry we reside in” and “an internal climate of the body.” On the other, she does seem to blur them—not only through her constant gauzy textures, her “doily work”, but also through her conception of first principles or universal motives, which at least troubles notions of human telos or some proper natural ordering about a human logos: “An invisible / form of intention willed / by chance conditions.” And she even seems to reach some accord with Morton, as Weather Inventions progresses, “beginning to see” around the corners of some secure sense of world, bordering on the “creeping realization” of its absence or uncertainty: “I do not / know the air, but I do. I’m ever / so unsure it was all / here.”
Nonetheless, she is not able to escape her reflex to reground such insights within the fabrics of a world imaginary, where her “gauze turn[s] guise”, and she remarks: “This air / in me is not me but I inhabit / it. Every breath a threshold.” She will not dispel the charm of this world of weather which is decidedly not climate. As Morton directs:
When the charm of world is dispelled, we find ourselves in the emergency room of ecological coexistence. In the charnel ground, worlds can never take root. Charnel grounds are too vivid for that. Any soft focusing begins to look like violence. Haunting a charnel ground is a much better analogy for ecological coexistence than inhabiting a world.
While I would hardly accuse Emily Rosko of violence, I do think Morton’s is a useful lens for thinking about why her lyric seems regressive, in Weather Inventions, and its semantic sum total likewise underwhelming. If nothing else, such a retreat to a gauzy guise—to such a hope that “[w]e could rise by hemp and silk, / wicker and wire, by gas heat pulsing aflame / a chambered organ,” such that we might “go anywhere / the wind favored”—seems irresponsible for a contemporary poet tackling the subject of an embodied climate and the anthropogenic technological impositions thereof. And while Rosko lands once more in accord with Morton vis-à-vis the reversal of the conventional, Aristotelian dichotomy—weather as substance, rather than accident—from here she turns pointedly pastoral, treating this new substantiality as a saving grace, romantically lyric in its intensity, to color out new connectivities and cohesion and un- or differently-bounded maps, as opposed to seeing the forest for the forest: this hyperobject of loomingly imbricated peril that is inextricable, now (as it perhaps always has been), from any imaginary weather or any reality of climate.
About Emily Rosko
Emily Rosko earned her BA from Purdue University, her MFA from Cornell University, and her PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her collections of poetry include Raw Goods Inventory (2006), which won an Iowa Poetry Prize and a Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and Prop Rockery (2012), winner of an Akron Poetry Prize. She edited the volume A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line (2011). Rosko was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and her honors and awards include Ruth Lilly and Jacob K. Javits fellowships. The poetry editor of Crazyhorse, Rosko is an assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston.
About Jonathan Pierce
Jonathan Pierce is a second-year MFA candidate in the poetry cohort, as well as an MA candidate in the literature department. His recent writings have concerned, at instances, the comorbidities of water and the petro-fueled plastocene anti-politics of Lana Del Rey. He was birthed and bridled amongst fetid bayous and pristine quartz beaches in northwest Florida; later educated in a vaulting gothic enclave on Chicago's southside; later still roamed the Arizona high-country; and lately arrives in Montana in order to explore Idaho's many hot springs. Additional interests include good beer, bad pulp, and any excuse for a road-trip.