"Cultivating an Ability to Imagine": Ryan Walsh's Reckonings and the Poetics of Toxicity
For nearly two decades since Lawrence Buell defined and anatomized "toxic discourse" in Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond (2001), the storying of toxic experience has received fruitful theoretical and literary attention. Throughout the world, citizens have come to terms with the reality that we live on a poisoned planet and the poisons in our environment are also in ourselves—the poisons our industrial activities spew into the air,
... into the air, water, soil, and food are almost imperceptibly ("slowly," as Rob Nixon would put it) absorbed into all of our bodies (through the process Stacy Alaimo described as "transcorporeality"). Biologist and literary activist Sandra Steingraber stated in Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (1997) that we must "cultivat[e] an ability to imagine" in order to appreciate the meaning of our post-industrial lives. In this essay, I focus on Ryan Walsh's new collection of poetry, Reckonings (2019), and on Pramod K. Nayar's recent ecocritical study, Bhopal's Ecological Gothic: Disaster, Precarity, and the Biopolitical Uncanny (2017), in order to propose and define an evolving "poetics of toxicity."