Everyday we hear about the dying coral reefs in Australia, the Amazon forest fires, the massive number of ocean animals washing ashore with stomachs full of plastics. But how often do we stop to think about our actions that have contributed to this destruction?
An award-winning poet, Camille T. Dungy has had an active interest in nature poetry and her literary works are anthologized in major collections. Most of her works are influenced by realities presented by the dynamics of life including nature, religion, gender, and ethnicity. More importantly, she advocates for environmental conservation by calling diverse writers to join in the conversation and encourage the protection of nature. Her poem A Massive Dying Off, published in Smith Blue (2011) is a wake-up call for everyone to to realize how big of a problem it will be if we continue going on without a care for nature.
Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Trophic Cascade (2017); Smith Blue (2011), a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America; Suck on the Marrow (2010), winner of an American Book Award, a California Book Award silver medal, and the Northern California book award; and the sonnet collection What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (2006), a finalist for both the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Library of Virginia Literary Award.
Rather than projecting into some future moment of potential peril, I’m thinking about how I can play a direct role in helping other living beings survive this changed reality we’re dealing with now.
This is a poem that will make you uncomfortable. It will force you to think about climate change as Dungy addresses its severity and worse, that we are still disconnected from this reality. Her passionate tone reminds us of the impending danger, should we continue ignoring the critical issue of our climate.
Dungy communicates a fracture between man and nature through a clever use of language, heavy imagery, and a unique narrative form /structure. Specifically, the choice to use a second-person point of view throughout the poem implicates everyone reading. It holds them accountable for some of the things that we do, knowingly or unknowingly, that have far-reaching effects on the environment.
“The shoes made from crocodile skins that you bought, your lack of care when the fish began dying, how quickly you switched to your favorite song to drown the NPR announcement of the massive dying off on the ocean floor…”
All these are universal actions that Dungy hopes will speak to everyone.
When reading the poem, you will also notice a unique narrative form and organization. There are spaces between sentences, both complete and incomplete. From a literary perspective, these spaces emphasize how man has become detached from their environment that they don’t even recognize when they are playing a role in it’s destruction. They also give space for contemplation; to think about what you have just read and internalize it for a few seconds before moving to the next.
Consider these lines:
We go about our days taking evening drives, buying new shoes, and ignoring nature, thinking that we are separate entities. However, the reality is that we are intertwined with nature and each of our actions shape how our environment will look like in future.
What are your thoughts and questions on A Massive Dying Off by Camille T. Dungy? Let me know in the comment section.