Situating the Ecological in Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries


What does it mean to read a poem about anti-Blackness as ecopoetics? How do we account for the ecological in such a work? How does this kind of reading unsettle the notion that ecological literatures are tethered to the environment? These are the questions I tackle in this paper as I undertake a reading of Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries as ecopoetry—a poem that explores the entanglements between the human and nonhuman worlds. I argue that through this poem, Brand pushes against such simple definitions of ecocritical works as focused on the impact of human activities on the environment. Her work suggests that woven into the fabric of the narratives that govern such activities are evidence of the destruction of marginalized bodies. As such, I approach Ossuaries from the angle of the key elements identified by scholars like Lawrence Buell, Laura-Gray Street, and Ann Fisher-Wirth as evident in ecological literatures. I examine how Brand deploys these features in her poem, using them to nudge us towards exploring Black histories in the context of what Kathryn Yusoff calls “geologic narratives.” I contend that these features situate Ossuaries within the context of ecopoetics, and therefore allow us to critique the impact of Anthropocenic origin narratives on both the environment, human body, and human history specifically, Black histories.
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