Alessandra Naccarato grew up worrying about climate change. As a child in the 1990s, she was consumed by thoughts about endangered species, holes in the ozone layer, and how she might survive what she calls an “infinite summer.” These worries have only grown more acute over the past few years – after all, isn’t climate anxiety the modern condition? So it only makes sense that they form a core theme in Naccarato’s debut essay collection, Imminent Domains: Reckoning with the Anthropocene.
Imminent Domains is hard to classify. It would be fair to say that it’s a book about climate change, but that description doesn’t give a full picture. The essays are more personal than they are scientific, though the scientific parts are clearly well researched. Perhaps the most accurate description would be: a poet grapples with the ways in which forces like capitalism and colonialism have wreaked havoc on our planet. Naccarato’s writing leans harder on experience and feeling than it does on drawing conclusions – she invites readers to wonder with her, rather than offering pat answers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Naccarato, author of one collection of poetry, is skilled at her craft, the kind of writer who can telegraph a scene with just a handful of words. She pulls the reader along on her travels – to a shrine in the bowels of a Bolivian mine, to a community apiary in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, to the dusty streets of Pompeii – with an easy grace. Every chapter is its own strange little gift, and there’s no predicting what might be in the next package that Naccarato presents. The subject matter isn’t pretty (even if some of the landscapes are), but it helps that she’s willing to sit with readers in their discomfort. In fact, that might be what she wants to achieve – to create a place where people can be uncomfortable together.
In spite of all this, there are points where the mix of personal stories and researched facts results in both sides of the equation being shortchanged. Naccarato drops hints about her own life that readers will likely wish were more fully fleshed out. Equally, it can be frustrating that her own experiences are the only entry point to the research she presents about environmental issues. Reading Imminent Domains can feel a bit like looking at a basket full of hand-dyed skeins of wool: beautiful in their own right, but you’d be forgiven for wondering what more they might be turned into.
That being said, Naccarato has crafted a collection of highly readable essays full of rich prose. Though the issues she grapples with are often heavy, her writing never feels hopeless. Given the current state of the world, a little hope goes a long way.