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Welcome to the Anthropocene


About this book

Available from the University of Alberta Press

ISBN: 978-1-77212-368-5

This 11th collection from Alice Major continues her long engagement with science and mathematics, which (like poetry) are ways we try to find meaning in the universe. The Anthropocene is a term that has been picking up velocity in scientific circles over recent decades, as we try to come to terms with how (and how much) human activity is shaping the planet.

The section that gives the book its name is a long poem in the satiric spirit of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. It draws on biology, evolutionary science, current events and ultimately cosmology to ask the down-to-earth question: where do humans belong “… in a wholeness where / everything is common and everything is rare?”

Expanding on this dilemma, other sections of the book explore how we get along in this complicated period when it can hard to figure out how to do much about the big stuff in our small way, when we have to make a living, when people get consigned to the margins, when other animals have to live with us, and when poets have to work with the same brains as every other human to make their kinds of meaning.  The poems in “Long division” turn personal, as the poet tries to use mathematical patterns to make sense of questions about issues like congenital illness and gender that have touched her own life.

Welcome to the Anthropocene is a witty, varied, sparky response offered at one of humanity’s most complicated turning points.

Now, welcome to the Anthropocene

you battered, tilting globe. Still you gleam,

a blue pearl on the necklace of the planets.

This home. Clouds, oceans, life forms span it

from pole to pole, within a peel of air

as thin as lace lapped round an apple. Fair

and fragile bounded sphere, yet strangely tough—

this world that life could never love enough….

Shortlisted for the Raymond Souster Award (League of Canadian Poets), the City of Edmonton Book Prize, and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Prize (Book Publishers Association of Alberta).

Sample a poem

Text: Excerpt from Welcome to the Anthropocene

Text: Circadian Arcadias

Audio: Privacy Acts

Radio interview with Terra Informa


In Welcome to the Anthropocene, Major sets up the natural world as dominant over our knowledge of it. She avoids suggesting that science can save us from our current predicament by satirizing those who are interested in an easy fix: “We can fix / anything, we’re smarter than bacteria. There isn’t any reason for hysteria. / We’ll plant some trees.” This sentiment provides tension in a book that finds truth and beauty in science, but which also has critiques of some of its processes and outcomes.

– Hannah Star Rogers, Los Angeles Review of Books (November 27, 2018)

Because the universe is big and all but incomprehensible, the average Jills and Joes don’t dare ask too many existential questions. It is left to poets to face the truth in those places the rest of us fear to tread. The author of eleven books of poetry and essays, Edmonton’s first poet laureate, and a woman comfortable in the realms of math, science, and cosmology, Alice Major is uniquely qualified to guide humanity through perilous ecological times. Thank you, Alice.

Matt Sutherland, Forward Review, (January/February 2018)

Alice Major begins Welcome to the Anthropocene by considering all the ways humans have meddled with the environment … before acknowledging a discomfiting paradox: the greater the destruction, the more convinced we become of our species’ significance in the face of time and space too vast to comprehend. The traditional and experimental forms which appear throughout the book reinforce Major’s argument … She excels at depicting situations when humans are themselves little more than kind animals, unusually intelligent but never quite intelligent enough, and often confounded by their own place in the ecosphere. Poems like “Old Anna” and “The Afternoon Before the Clocks Turn Back” are standout examples.

Patrick O’Reilly, Maisonneuve

Poets work like naturalists or scientists. What they do is based on what has gone before. … The poet has had fun writing these poems, which is a good sign for the reader. They poems are serious but the reader can expect to have fun reading them.

Murray Citron, The Canadian Field-Naturalist, Vol 131, No 4

This is poetry with a brain as well as a heart … it not only makes us feel but also succeeds in making us think.

Roger Caldwell, London Grip

This collection is by turns a lament, a dirge and a celebration of being on earth in this human-dominated moment. It is a book of hefty, rhythmic poetry that demands our listening and asks for repeated readings … an intelligent book that expects its readers to think about the verse they are reading and about the world they are harming just by being here. … Major’s ecologically minded poems demonstrate anew why poetry and art play leading roles in helping us to conceive of better times that are yet to come.

Kit Dobson, Alberta Views

With its zeal and intellectual thrust, Welcome to the Anthropocene is a work of some power and also a gem. With its clever organization around the introductory first poem, the collection may be said to resemble the “murmuration of starlings” wherein outliers shape the progress of the flock as a whole: here I refer to the shifting borrowings from the leader poem as epigraphs starting each section.

Gillian Harding-Russell, The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada

Alice Major’s Welcome to the Anthropocene is a confrontational yet compassionate collection of 57 poems that cut through the fluff of everyday life and deliver insight into the human-driven world we live in.

Megan Nega, Freefall Magazine

This wide-ranging and beautiful collection combines scientific knowledge of evolution, DNA, and mathematical formulas with a caring attention to the wondrous connections between human and non-human life. Major returns to images of chains—the double helix of DNA, the catenary curve, and the misplaced faith in the binds of necessity are just some examples—to transform “The Great Chain of Being” from “a ladder to the angels” to “a horizontal loop that rearranges / life repeatedly,” a net in which “we claim / a place.”

Kait Pinder, Canadian Literature

Welcome to the Anthropocene is expansive, coherent and provocative: “We are time’s derivative. / And for a little while, we are each a lens / in its compound eye.” The language and lineation involves readers willy nilly in Major’s love affair with eighteenth-century forms and philosophies. Throughout, Major interrogates human ascendency. The poems vindicate the perception of us as the fickle species, extreme in both brilliance and folly. In Welcome to the Anthropocene, Major’s compassion more exposes than mitigates our hubris, but the writing shines, an example of the best of what “human” can mean.

Jury Comments, Souster Award, May, 2019

These snapshots of contemporary life elicit not just a touch of sympathy for the underdog but also suspicion about the wisdom of our species. With its blend of science-savvy and compassion, and its circling back to naturalist themes, this finely tuned collection suggests that more than scientific precision or corporate efficiency (“hardness masquerading / as transparency”) what we need in these times of reckoning is greater stewardship of the planet and one another.

Anouk H. Henri, Arc Poetry Magazine

Welcome to the Anthropocene is a real achievement, and it deserves more readers. More importantly, these poems are intelligent, philosophically and ethically searching, formally engaging, and dappled with precise information and detail, and so they will reward all readers who find them.

Edward A. Dougherty, American Microreviews

Welcome to the Anthropocene is a poet’s take on the climate crisis, which blends math and science with poetry to produce a beautiful and wondrous examination of the natural world and humanity’s devastating impact on it. While such an undertaking could easily be defeatist, Major’s collection retains a sense of hope and genuine love for humanity that makes her poetry a refreshing read in an era plagued by eco-anxiety …

Katherine DeCoste, The Gateway

In the first section of her poem–the one about pride–Major welcomes all the creatures humans have brought into existence, from the Black 6 Mouse, bred for use in labs because they can consistently be reproduced and resemble humans.  They possess “a tendency / to age-related hearing loss; efficiency / in breeding but erratic parenting; / willingness to drink booze; inheriting / a sensitivity to pain and prone / to biting.”  Even in this brief excerpt, the reader can grasp Major’s m.o.:  skillful use of rhyme (tendency/efficiency and parenting/inheriting) combined with a witty and even cheeky diction.  Here she takes a side-swipe at the human ability to breed but not to parent particularly well, and our thirst for “booze”–a word delightfully out of place with the elegant rhyme.

Kathleen Wall, Blue Duets blog entry

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