Alessandra Naccarato was born and raised in Tkaronto (Toronto). Her debut poetry collection, Re-Origin of Species, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, longlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and named a Best Book of 2019 by CBC Books.
Imminent Domains: Reckoning with the Anthropocene Imminent Domains invites readers to join a contemplation of survival—our own, and that of the elements that surround us. Using research, lyric prose, and first-hand experiences, Naccarato addresses fundamental questions about our modern relationship to nature amidst depictions of landscapes undergoing dramatic transformation.
Interviewed by Isabel Jones
Isabel Jones (IJ): In your introduction you say we all have a role to play in our changing world during this Anthropocene era, that your offering is the memory and meaning you carry along with the research you have been trained to do. Your research is deep and the content alarming, yet there is a beauty in your writing and a hint of hope. Can you tell us how you hang on to some faith in the world and manage to “seek joy in the saddest places”? (Arundhati Roy, as quoted in the introduction)
Alessandra Naccarato (AN): This is one of the gifts of being a poet, I think: we train in the art of observing beauty. Unexpected beauty, mundane beauty, beauty that is mostly grief, or loss, or epiphany, and it cultivates an intimacy with this world. Poetry is how I see the world, and it is a driving force in my essays. In the midst of ecological grief, it reminds me I am not a protagonist in the story of this world, and that the unknowns between us are powerful beyond measure. And I find hope in that, even in the most difficult moments. Hope, and faith, and persistence.
IJ: You characterize the climate crisis as a crisis of colonialism. Can you elaborate on that?
AN: There are ongoing discussions about how to characterize this moment in time, and the Anthropocene is the most commonly used definition; a term reflecting the predominant impact humans now have on the planet. But like many others, I balk at the idea that a unified human race; a collective “we” is culpable for the emergency we are facing. Our current environmental crisis can be traced—in geological records, even in the very ice cores of our planet—back to the global onset of colonial violence. Often, terms like climate, ecology and the Anthropocene, are portrayed as objective, depoliticized and depersonalized. In this book, I wanted to contest that. I wanted to examine what is deeply personal and subjective; how the fossil record exists in my family, how the climate crisis exists in my body and life—and the fundamental system that got us here.
IJ: You have travelled globally and witnessed different food systems and structures. For example, you discuss in the Wayfinding section the ‘apis industrial complex’ and the precarious balance of bees and water supply in almond farming. This fragile interconnectedness in many areas is threatened by the long-term effects of human intervention. How do you see us moving out of this global food system predicament?
AN: I often reflect on the vast differences between my grandparents’ food systems and my own. My grandmother who immigrated from southern Italy grew all her own food in her back yard, and tended rabbits in her shed for meat. Every memory I have of her is filled with gardening, cooking, with visiting those rabbits. My grandfather grew up on a farm up north, and most of what my mother ate growing up was moose he hunted, carrots they grew in their yard, berries they gathered in summer and froze. At the same time, I try not to romanticize the past too much, or suggest some kind of return to the ways of my grandparents’—who were both settlers—is possible or an ideal solution. I see their approaches as harm-reduction, and good ways of knowing. And the difference between us reminds me how quickly change can happen, in ways we may not be able to currently fathom—for the better and the worse. I believe that localized, small-scale food systems, such as urban farming, are crucial. And in our current environmental context, I think we are looking for both solutions and harm-reduction, emergent approaches and fail-safes, to keep each other fed. Will we move out of this predicament? No one knows. I wrote this book to sit with the uncertainty, grief, and possibility of unanswerable questions, like that one.
IJ: The theme of interconnectedness runs through the book. In the essay “Bloodstones”, you talk about crystals and gems and the irony of embracing them as healing, reassuring objects while they may carry some of the cruelty required in the process to extract them from the earth by a person placed inside a mine. How can we reconcile the reality of the sourcing of our goods with trying to make ethical consumer and lifestyle choices?
AN: I think the reality may be irreconcilable; there are certain pathways of extraction that may not allow for any kind of “ethical” engagement. Crystals and gemstones are part of an industry that is deeply shrouded, entangled with human rights abuses, ecological devastation, and the erosion of democratic institutions. And yet, they are branded for compassion, personal healing and environmental connection, and often marked “ethically sourced.” I find the paradox heartbreaking. It’s profoundly human and worthy to seek out compassion and connection, and many people turn to crystals to cultivate sovereignty and agency in their health. And still, we may need to find a different way, if we’re seeking a non-violent connection. Perhaps one that involves more language than mining; being present with the unseen parts of this earth, and no longer breaking open a mountain to own them.