Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/ IMAGE.PM.13.1.7 | PDF

Iso­topic Poet­ics Max Karpin­s­ki

Isotopic Poetics: The Petrocultural Appropriations of Lesley Battler’s Endangered Hydrocarbons

Max Karpin­s­ki
Les­ley Battler’s Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons (2015) broad­ens the scope of what might be con­sid­ered a politi­cized ecopo­et­ics. Battler’s col­lec­tion, which I sug­gest works through a poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion, links exper­i­men­tal poet­ic form with Anthro­pocene crit­i­cism in the human­i­ties and crit­i­cal stud­ies of set­tler colo­nial­ism, address­ing the con­ti­gu­i­ties between eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion and land expro­pri­a­tion, while also mak­ing the appro­pri­a­tion of lan­guage one of its cen­tral for­mal con­cerns. In the con­text of the Cana­di­an nation-state and its extrac­tive economies, I argue that Battler’s “iso­topic poet­ics” appears as a polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed for­mal prax­is for work­ing through the tan­gled exi­gen­cies of ongo­ing set­tler-colo­nial dis­pos­ses­sion and the accel­er­at­ing envi­ron­men­tal crisis.
Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons (2015) de Les­ley Bat­tler élar­git le champ de ce que l'on pour­rait con­sid­ér­er comme une écopoésie poli­tisée. La col­lec­tion de Bat­tler, dont je sug­gère qu'elle fonc­tionne par le biais d'une poé­tique de l'appropriation, relie la forme poé­tique expéri­men­tale à la cri­tique de l'Anthropocène dans les sci­ences humaines et aux études cri­tiques du colo­nial­isme de peu­ple­ment, en abor­dant les con­tiguïtés entre la dégra­da­tion écologique et l'expropriation des ter­res, tout en faisant de l'appropriation du lan­gage l'une de ses prin­ci­pales préoc­cu­pa­tions formelles. Dans le con­texte de l'État-nation cana­di­en et de ses économies extrac­tives, je sou­tiens que la “poé­tique iso­topique” de Bat­tler appa­raît comme une prax­is formelle à moti­va­tion poli­tique per­me­t­tant de tra­vailler à tra­vers les exi­gences enchevêtrées de la dépos­ses­sion colo­niale en cours et de l'accélération de la crise environnementale.


In August 2019, the RCMP arrest­ed Cana­di­an poet, schol­ar, and activist Rita Wong for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a protest against the Trans Moun­tain pipeline project in Burn­a­by, British Colum­bia. In her pub­lic sen­tenc­ing state­ment, she makes it clear that her actions—singing, pray­ing, and sit­ting in cer­e­mo­ny with oth­er land and water defenders—were a response to the cli­mate cri­sis that must be seen in rela­tion to the his­to­ry and present-day man­i­fes­ta­tions of set­tler colo­nial­ism. Wong iden­ti­fies the links between Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and the rov­ing “man camps” along pipeline con­struc­tion sites; the envi­ron­men­tal cast-off of resource extrac­tion and the increased pol­lu­tion and inci­dences of dis­ease over­whelm­ing­ly borne by Indige­nous, racial­ized, and poor com­mu­ni­ties; and, cru­cial­ly, the expan­sion of extrac­tive projects such as Trans Moun­tain and the Athabas­ca oil sands and the set­tler-colo­nial dri­ve to dis­pos­sess and appro­pri­ate land (Wong). I begin with Wong’s state­ment because it entan­gles a series of con­cerns that I iden­ti­fy as cen­tral for an emer­gent strand of ecopo­et­ry in Cana­da. This mode of ecopo­et­ry, which I sug­gest works through a poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion, links exper­i­men­tal poet­ic form with Anthro­pocene crit­i­cism in the human­i­ties and crit­i­cal stud­ies of set­tler colo­nial­ism, address­ing the con­ti­gu­i­ties between eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion and land expro­pri­a­tion, while also mak­ing the appro­pri­a­tion of lan­guage one of its cen­tral for­mal con­cerns.1 One recent exam­ple is Les­ley Battler’s Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons (2015), which incor­po­rates doc­u­ments, data, and texts pro­duced by multi­na­tion­al oil com­pa­nies, as well as a wide vari­ety of found mate­r­i­al. In the con­text of the Cana­di­an nation-state and its extrac­tive economies, I argue that Battler’s poet­ics of appropriation—which I describe as “isotopic”—appears as a polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed for­mal prax­is for work­ing through the tan­gled exi­gen­cies of ongo­ing set­tler-colo­nial dis­pos­ses­sion and the accel­er­at­ing envi­ron­men­tal crisis.

Poetics of Appropriation and Environmental Literature

Poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion” is my cho­sen term for a par­tic­u­lar form of poet­ry that repro­duces or reframes found text and doc­u­ments.2 In recent years, this kind of tex­tu­al appro­pri­a­tion has emerged as one of the pre­dom­i­nant modes of pro­duc­tion for con­tem­po­rary exper­i­men­tal poet­ry across North Amer­i­ca. While often aligned with the Amer­i­can school of con­cep­tu­al poets and under­stood as a response to the Internet’s pro­lif­er­a­tion and cir­cu­la­tion of con­tent in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, recent schol­ar­ship has more crit­i­cal­ly engaged the polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions of this for­mal tac­tic.3 Sarah Dowl­ing, for exam­ple, has read “poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion” in the con­text of Indige­nous stud­ies, relat­ing the “seizure” of text by Indige­nous poets to “the frame­work of set­tler colo­nial­ism” (102). Dowl­ing is con­cerned with the legal struc­tures that under­pin set­tler-colo­nial dis­pos­ses­sion, defin­ing “appro­pri­a­tion” in the con­text of “leg­isla­tive acts” and “legal process­es by which things can be tak­en or set aside” (104). In apply­ing the term “poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion” to a spe­cif­ic mode of ecopo­et­ry, I am mak­ing a par­tic­u­lar claim about the inex­tri­ca­bil­i­ty of envi­ron­men­tal or eco­log­i­cal thought and analy­ses of set­tler colo­nial­ism. I fol­low Robert Nichols, who has shown how set­tler colonialism’s mode of “recur­sive dis­pos­ses­sion” impli­cates envi­ron­men­tal strug­gles, point­ing to the “wide range of pro­tract­ed legal and polit­i­cal bat­tles” between Indige­nous groups and set­tler states that “focus on the mat­ter of use of and access to land, includ­ing con­trol over nat­ur­al resources devel­op­ment, extrac­tive indus­tries, and eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion” (11). Nichols, build­ing with a range of Indige­nous the­o­rists and activists, con­structs “dis­pos­ses­sion and coun­ter­dis­pos­ses­sion” as a cat­e­go­ry of crit­i­cal the­o­ry (24). In the con­text of set­tler colonialism’s his­to­ries of expro­pri­a­tion and enclo­sure of land and knowl­edge for pri­vate gain, I argue that a poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion con­sti­tutes one mode of cul­tur­al “coun­ter­dis­pos­ses­sion,” a for­mal and tac­ti­cal response that inter­twines eco­log­i­cal con­cerns with the dif­fi­cult and urgent attempts to think towards decolonization.

Battler’s Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons is exem­plary of what I am the­o­riz­ing as an eco­log­i­cal­ly-inflect­ed poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion in the way that it deploys appro­pri­a­tion as a poet­ic method to engage the lan­guage of the petro­chem­i­cal industry—“production lan­guage”4—that under­writes extrac­tive expan­sion and land expro­pri­a­tion. Bat­tler, who wrote the book while work­ing as a project infor­ma­tion man­ag­er for Shell Oil, notes at the con­clu­sion of her book that “All of the poems in this project are derived from texts gen­er­at­ed in a multi­na­tion­al oil com­pa­ny,” and describes how she “spliced items such as well­books, mud­logs, geo­log­i­cal prog­noses, and meet­ing notes with […] basi­cal­ly any­thing that crossed [her] path” (173). Put this way, Battler’s poet­ic approach recalls those ear­ly artic­u­la­tions of appro­pria­tive or con­cep­tu­al poet­ics as a response to the almost over­whelm­ing avail­abil­i­ty and easy repro­duc­tion of text in the dig­i­tal age. If we empha­size Battler’s poems as con­struc­tions that draw togeth­er text from “his­to­ries and crit­i­cal the­o­ret­i­cal works” along­side “trav­el, real estate, and home decor mag­a­zines” (173), we might be inclined to read her work as engaged in a mode of dis­cur­sive flat­ten­ing. Lan­guage is emp­tied out of mean­ing; text sig­ni­fies as mate­r­i­al. But Battler’s appro­pri­a­tions are not sim­ple re-pre­sen­ta­tions of found con­tent. As she describes it, she “splices” her texts, trans­form­ing lan­guage through tex­tu­al tech­niques that are designed to mim­ic the extrac­tive process­es of oil capitalism.

Battler’s “splic­ing” informs the term that I attach to her poet­ics: iso­topic. In layperson’s terms, iso­topes name mul­ti­ple ver­sions of the same ele­ment, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed by the num­ber of neu­trons in their nuclei. Cru­cial­ly for my read­ing of Bat­tler, iso­topes are often asso­ci­at­ed with radioac­tiv­i­ty and decay, that is, the desta­bi­liza­tion of the nucle­us. Battler’s text engages with these con­cepts in its con­tent. For exam­ple, “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball,” which I offer an extend­ed read­ing of below, describes the refine­ment and trans­for­ma­tion of hydro­car­bons. Else­where in the text, Bat­tler names “iso­topes” specif­i­cal­ly, in the process flip­ping what appears to be an indus­try memo into a quip: “as an indus­try we must wrest / the media from its addic­tion to activist / sen­sa­tion­al­ism and present our own / iso­topes” (128). These lines present the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try as con­cerned with rep­re­sen­ta­tion, that is, flag­ging the need to flood the media land­scape with pre­sum­ably san­i­tized accounts of extrac­tion that counter “activist / sen­sa­tion­al­ism.” In its oppo­si­tion­al and inter­ven­tion­ist approach to the “pro­duc­tion lan­guage” of the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try, Battler’s text per­forms a kind of tar­get­ed undo­ing or minor desta­bi­liza­tion of indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tions of petro­chem­i­cal pro­duc­tion. But “iso­topic poet­ics” can also be under­stood con­cep­tu­al­ly as a ges­ture to the way Battler’s poems pro­duce mean­ing. Radioac­tive decay is also the release of ener­gy; Battler’s splices, in their capac­i­ty as sub­tle trans­for­ma­tions of source doc­u­ments, mul­ti­ply sig­ni­fi­ca­tion. In this way, Battler’s dis­cur­sive extrac­tions are also about excess. In those moments when the text is “refined,” Bat­tler asks us to pay atten­tion to, and think with, the excess, cast-off, or “exter­nal­i­ties” of the pro­duc­tion of mean­ing. In oth­er words, Battler’s poet­ic method teach­es her read­ers to iden­ti­fy indus­try sleight of hand, ask­ing them to think crit­i­cal­ly about the absences, gaps, or sub­tle lin­guis­tic shifts in the ways that the oil indus­try nar­rates extraction.

Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons makes explic­it that a poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion is an eco­log­i­cal poet­ics. The claim that a par­tic­u­lar mode of exper­i­men­tal poet­ics express­es avowed­ly eco­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal moti­va­tions can be sit­u­at­ed in the con­text of the shift in eco­crit­i­cism from an empha­sis on tra­di­tion­al modes of lyric nature and land­scape writ­ing towards an inten­si­fied engage­ment with the­o­ret­i­cal­ly com­plex forms. Leav­ing behind what Lawrence Buell describes as “first-wave ecocriticism’s naive­ly pre-the­o­ret­i­cal val­oriza­tion of expe­ri­en­tial con­tact with the nat­ur­al world” (94), the envi­ron­men­tal human­i­ties have embraced a diverse range of the­o­ret­i­cal approach­es, mov­ing towards com­plex analy­ses of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice that impli­cate post­colo­nial, Indige­nous, fem­i­nist, queer, and crit­i­cal race stud­ies.5 And yet, as detailed by Lynn Keller in her exam­i­na­tion of North Amer­i­can ecopo­et­ics since the turn of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, “eco­crit­i­cism con­cern­ing anglo­phone poet­ry […] has con­tin­ued to focus large­ly on nature poet­ry, just as the more pop­u­lar poet­ry asso­ci­at­ed with envi­ron­men­tal con­cern has con­tin­ued to be work depict­ing soli­tary expe­ri­ences in wild or rur­al set­tings” (15). Respond­ing to Keller’s obser­va­tion, I want to sug­gest that avant-garde, exper­i­men­tal, or oth­er­wise “dif­fi­cult” modes of poet­ic writing—including Battler’s poet­ics of appropriation—represent valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to con­tem­po­rary eco­crit­i­cism pre­cise­ly because they for­mal­ize ques­tions of eco­log­i­cal rela­tions. By choos­ing to enact a mode of tex­tu­al repro­duc­tion, Bat­tler eschews a tra­di­tion­al, lyric sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and opts instead for a poet­ic utter­ance con­fect­ed of the strange, the oth­er, and the unoriginal.

Against the tra­di­tion­al lyric subject’s sta­ble bound­aries and self-con­tained expe­ri­ences, a poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion makes appar­ent the entanglements—self/other, local/global, past/present—that define life in the petro­cul­tur­al present of the Anthro­pocene epoch. Draw­ing on Keller’s descrip­tion of the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of con­tem­po­rary envi­ron­men­tal poet­ry, I want to sug­gest that the very act of tak­ing Battler’s lin­guis­tic exper­i­men­ta­tion seriously—to read the poems as always crit­i­cal and inci­sive even at their most playful—broadens the scope of what might be con­sid­ered a politi­cized ecopo­et­ics. In her overview of recent Cana­di­an “Petro-Poet­ics,” Judith Rausch­er iden­ti­fies the ten­den­cy of “oil poems” to posi­tion their speak­ers as “wit­ness­es” (101) who remain, nonethe­less, “spa­tial­ly and tem­po­ral­ly removed from the con­di­tions and occur­rences they report” (102). These lyric speak­ers are “observer[s],” often speak­ing from a “seem­ing­ly uni­ver­sal­ist, envi­ron­men­tal­ist per­spec­tive” (102). Depart­ing from the more imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able poet­ics of wit­ness­ing that con­tin­ues to define con­tem­po­rary poet­ic and crit­i­cal engage­ments with, or rep­re­sen­ta­tions of, envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, I offer the poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion as an alter­na­tive artic­u­la­tion of the polit­i­cal work of ecopoetry.

Complicity and Critique in Petrocultures

Before turn­ing to Battler’s poems them­selves, I want to briefly gloss some of the dom­i­nant pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of petro­cul­tur­al analy­sis in order to demon­strate how a poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion might con­sti­tute a suit­able form for the Anthro­pocene and, in par­tic­u­lar, petropo­et­ics. Ear­ly in his recent exam­i­na­tion of the prob­lem of artic­u­lat­ing a poet­ics in and for the Anthro­pocene, David Far­ri­er address­es the con­cerns of some Earth sys­tem sci­en­tists about the “rhetor­i­cal promis­cu­ity” of the term (3). Chal­leng­ing the notion that “the human­i­ties […] have no mean­ing­ful role to play” in assem­bling crit­i­cal method­olo­gies for think­ing the Anthro­pocene, he sug­gests “a more inclu­sive approach to defin­ing” the con­cept (3). For Far­ri­er, the Anthro­pocene sig­ni­fies dif­fer­ent­ly with­in and across dis­ci­pli­nary bound­aries, pro­duc­ing dis­tinct chal­lenges and con­cerns that depend on the his­to­ries and genealo­gies of each spe­cif­ic field. The ques­tion that emerges, for Far­ri­er, is: what does the Anthro­pocene mean to poet­ry and poet­ics? He writes:

Poet­ry can com­press vast acreages of mean­ing into a small com­pass or per­form the kind of bold link­ages that it would take reams of aca­d­e­m­ic argu­ment to plot; it can widen the aper­ture of our gaze or deposit us on the brink of trans­for­ma­tion. In short, it can mod­el an Anthro­pocenic per­spec­tive in which our sense of rela­tion­ship and prox­im­i­ty (and from this, our ethics) is stretched and test­ed against the Anthropocene’s warp­ing effects.” (5)

Farrier’s sug­ges­tions of some of the work that poet­ry can do in the con­tem­po­rary moment res­onate with how I want to posi­tion the petropo­et­ics of Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons. In the con­text of her role as an insid­er in the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try, Bat­tler asks us to con­sid­er our “prox­im­i­ty” or com­plic­i­ty with the ongo­ing vio­lence of set­tler colo­nial­ism and the accu­mu­la­tions of glob­al, neolib­er­al cap­i­tal, often exer­cised through the accel­er­a­tion of extrac­tivist projects, pre­cise­ly as a means through which to unset­tle and recom­pose “our ethics.”

Beyond the ques­tion of com­plic­i­ty, Battler’s poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion also respond to a par­tic­u­lar dis­cus­sion in petro­cul­tur­al analy­sis, one that has sig­nif­i­cant over­lap with recent debates in lit­er­ary stud­ies about the forms and roles of cri­tique: the in/visibility, or hid­den aspect, of oil. For Imre Sze­man, this qual­i­ty aris­es in part because oil’s “con­sump­tion is almost entire­ly dis­as­so­ci­at­ed from its extrac­tion,” ren­der­ing oil a dis­so­cia­tive resource with “a ten­den­cy to van­ish into the back­ground, invis­i­ble to nar­ra­tive” (283). Sze­man is engag­ing what Graeme Mac­don­ald describes as “A strong­ly devel­oped strain of petro­cul­tur­al the­o­ry,” which argues that “the means and effects of oil are struc­tural­ly occlud­ed from its mass of con­sumers, mak­ing it less appar­ent as an explic­it object in social life and thus a spe­cif­ic top­ic in and for cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion” (6-7). Mac­don­ald refers here to the ear­ly days of the ener­gy human­i­ties, in which schol­ars strug­gled to artic­u­late the pos­si­ble rea­sons for what they per­ceived as a lack of atten­tion giv­en by con­tem­po­rary writ­ers to the role and pres­ence of oil in every­day life.6 This is still very much a fea­ture of con­tem­po­rary com­men­tary on oil; Sze­man, for exam­ple, posi­tions oil “as an ener­gy source that orga­nizes life prac­tice in a more fun­da­men­tal way than we’ve ever allowed our­selves to grasp” (283).

I want to sug­gest that there is some­thing struc­tur­al in the social, cul­tur­al, and mate­r­i­al expe­ri­ences of oil that installs the dom­i­nant forms of critique—exposure, debunk­ing, interrogation—as the pre­em­i­nent con­tem­po­rary crit­i­cal pose. This is appar­ent in Ghosh’s expla­na­tion of his name for the con­tem­po­rary era: “the Great Derange­ment” (The Great 11). Ghosh sug­gests that a num­ber of inter­re­lat­ed “modes of con­ceal­ment [have] pre­vent­ed peo­ple from rec­og­niz­ing the real­i­ties of their plight” (The Great 11). In oth­er words, he defines the con­tem­po­rary as a moment in need of cri­tique, or in which the truth of the situation—“realities”—is either obscured or incom­plete­ly avail­able to the pub­lic. Ghosh’s con­struc­tion, which echoes Szeman’s avow­al of the “fun­da­men­tal” orga­ni­za­tion­al pow­er of oil, posi­tions the cul­tur­al or polit­i­cal crit­ic as always skep­ti­cal or para­noid, always look­ing beneath the benign sur­face of the giv­en for the hid­den and nefar­i­ous. But as recent the­o­riza­tions of post­cri­tique put it, the ubiq­ui­ty of this crit­i­cal pos­ture has evac­u­at­ed it of any inher­ent rad­i­cal capac­i­ty. Eliz­a­beth S. Anker and Rita Fel­s­ki describe this cri­tique of cri­tique as the “objec­tion […] that cri­tique has been nor­mal­ized, domes­ti­cat­ed, or defanged through its own pop­u­lar­i­ty” (13). To resi­t­u­ate this ques­tion, again, in the con­text of petro­cul­tures, we might look to an impas­sioned defense of Cana­di­an extrac­tivism, Ezra Levant’s Eth­i­cal Oil (2010). Lev­ant argues the Alber­ta oil sands con­sti­tute an eth­i­cal source of oil in com­par­i­son to the oil regimes of the Mid­dle East, there­fore ren­der­ing oppo­si­tion to Alber­tan oil moral­ly bank­rupt. Mark Simp­son describes Lev­ant as “cast[ing] his project in terms of expo­sure: cor­rect­ing mis­takes, dis­pelling myths, and punc­tur­ing lies on every page” (291). In oth­er words, Lev­ant per­forms the same crit­i­cal dis­po­si­tion as that advo­cat­ed by Ghosh and Szeman—he sim­ply directs his cri­tique towards a com­plete­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry polit­i­cal and eth­i­cal horizon.

In the con­text of what we might call Levant’s appro­pri­at­ed (and despoiled?) crit­i­cal mod­el, petro­cul­tur­al analy­sis appears as a flash­point that might pro­duc­tive­ly illu­mi­nate the con­tem­po­rary dis­cus­sions around the lim­its of cri­tique. Aman­da Boet­zkes offers one mod­el of crit­i­cism that rejects the dom­i­nant crit­i­cal dis­po­si­tion of “expo­sure,” argu­ing that “the ways the oil indus­try con­ceals its destruc­tive impact can­not be exposed or reme­died through the tac­tics of demys­ti­fi­ca­tion of objec­tive reportage” (222). For Boet­zkes, in an inver­sion of Ghosh, cri­tique is impos­si­ble in light of the “dogged insis­tence on the part of oil cor­po­ra­tions that their prac­tices and deci­sions are entire­ly trans­par­ent. […] [G]iven the fail­ure of trans­paren­cy and objec­tiv­i­ty, attempts to visu­al­ize petro­cul­ture, whether as indus­try, eco­nom­ic struc­ture, or ener­gy sys­tem, fall short” (222-223).7 Fol­low­ing Boet­zkes, critique—understood here as the ges­ture of expo­sure or demystification—is at the same time made nec­es­sary by the very struc­ture of petro­cul­tures and ren­dered polit­i­cal­ly inef­fec­tive. Boetzkes’s wari­ness of crit­i­cal moves of “demys­ti­fi­ca­tion” sug­gests the via­bil­i­ty of an alter­na­tive mod­el, one that exceeds both the “objec­tive reportage” of much polit­i­cal­ly-invest­ed petro­cul­tur­al analy­sis and the poet­ics of wit­ness­ing that remains promi­nent in petropo­et­ry, or more gen­er­al­ly, envi­ron­men­tal lit­er­a­ture. As I hope to show in the clos­ing sec­tion, the poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion offers just one such mod­el that exceeds the work of cri­tique to imag­ine ener­gy futures otherwise.

The Textual Energies of Battler’s Endangered Hydrocarbons

To begin to demon­strate how Battler’s poet­ics unset­tles what cir­cu­lates in envi­ron­men­tal lit­er­a­ture as the fig­ure of the wit­ness, we can turn to per­haps the most visu­al­ly strik­ing poem in the col­lec­tion, “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball.” The poem pro­ceeds in three columns, with mul­ti­ple type­faces seem­ing to mark out the dif­fer­ent voic­es that min­gle or mix in the space of the page. “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball” presents itself as a kind of wit­ness poem. The first line stands on its own, address­ing the read­er: “look” (56). The poem appears to nar­rate a tour of a “Frac­tion­ater,” a kind of refin­ery that sep­a­rates mix­tures into their con­sti­tu­tive parts (56). At the same time, as the title sug­gests, this Frac­tion­ater is also in the midst of what appears to be a rau­cous par­ty, with an “open bar” in the “ante­bel­lum / ball­room” and a “dance / floor” on which, we learn, “gly­cols like / a good / two-step” (59). The poem is marked by shrieks of seem­ing gib­ber­ish, bold­ed and cap­i­tal­ized, that seem to be the speech of the very hydro­car­bons under refine­ment: “SHIRRRK-ka pk / SHI­I­I­I­I­IRK-SH-ka / pok-shh kapok-e’ / eee’ EEE” (57). The nar­ra­tor or tour guide help­ful­ly offers to “trans­late” some of these unin­tel­li­gi­ble lines for the read­er. “Pen­tane 1” seems ready to par­ty, shout­ing “TGIF! thank god / it’s Fara­day,” osten­si­bly a ref­er­ence to Michael Fara­day, the first chemist to iso­late ben­zene (57).

At first blush, and as my descrip­tion above aims to com­mu­ni­cate, “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball” appears as a jaun­ty send-up of the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try and the process of refin­ing hydro­car­bons. Indeed, in the con­text of Battler’s stat­ed approach to lan­guage as crude oil, it might be pos­si­ble to read a kind of lin­guis­tic or tex­tu­al jouis­sance in the play and pro­lif­er­a­tion of lan­guage. The poem is lit­tered with jokes and col­lo­qui­alisms, such as the Fara­day line men­tioned above, or the dou­ble enten­dre in the descrip­tion of “pen­tanes” as “caus­tic,” that is, at once able to cor­rode and scathing (57). Beyond the lin­guis­tic humour, I would argue that the text’s visu­al lay­out itself con­tributes to the sense of read­er­ly play. For spe­cif­ic exam­ples of this kind of visu­al play­ful­ness, we can look to the fourth and final page of the poem, repro­duced below (see Fig­ure 1). By now, on the final page, we have been con­di­tioned to read for sense down each of the three columns, and then from left to right across the page. And yet, even here, the eye is drawn across columns, find­ing state­ments that feel appro­pri­ate for a par­ty like “into the // open bar,” or not­ing the place­ment of the “dance / floor” in the mid­dle col­umn par­al­lel to the right column’s invo­ca­tion of “hip-hop” and “dub” music. Indeed, in my read­ing, the poem invites these kinds of chance inter­ac­tions between and across the three columns that struc­ture it, allow­ing for a dif­fer­ent kind of move­ment through the text. This is to take seri­ous­ly what we might call the ener­get­ics of the poet­ic text, and to think about the ways poet­ry, broad­ly speak­ing, pro­duces mean­ing beyond the seman­tic lev­el through the move­ments, col­li­sions, and spaces between units of language.

Figure 1: From “The Petrochemical Ball” excerpted from Endangered Hydrocarbons © 2015 by Lesley Battler. Used with permission of Book*hug Press.

Put dif­fer­ent­ly, “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball” address­es itself to read­ers as fun to read and sil­ly to voice. Indeed, I argue this expe­ri­ence of read­er­ly plea­sure is a key ele­ment of Battler’s larg­er project to trou­ble a petropo­et­ics of wit­ness­ing with the ques­tion of com­plic­i­ty. Very quick­ly, the poem begins to accrue sin­is­ter and poten­tial­ly uncom­fort­able over­tones in its invi­ta­tion of echoes between the process­es of oil refine­ment and Canada’s lega­cy of res­i­den­tial schools. In this line of analy­sis, I fol­low Melanie Den­nis Unrau’s read­ing of “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball,” where she con­vinc­ing­ly argues that Battler’s poem, for all its seem­ing friv­o­li­ty, traces and cri­tiques the colo­nial­i­ty of extrac­tion.8 Ear­ly in the “tour,” the guide informs us that, in the Fractionater:

our role
is to distill
track their
bets” (56)

This pas­sage again under­lines the text’s struc­tur­ing prin­ci­ple, that is, the asso­ci­a­tion between petro­chem­i­cal refin­ing process­es and tex­tu­al pro­duc­tion. The refine­ment of hydro­car­bons is fig­ured as an alpha­bet­i­cal reshap­ing, what appears at the poem’s con­clu­sion as the trans­for­ma­tion of “their piti­ful / shrieks” into “car­bon / ron­delets” (59). We can begin to appre­hend Battler’s iso­topic poet­ics in the lin­guis­tic play of “alpha / bets,” a ref­er­ence to alpha and beta decay that enacts a kind of ener­gy release, or pro­duc­tion of mean­ing, in the shift from “beta” to “bets,” and in the split­ting of the word across the line break.

At the same time, how­ev­er, “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball” links the process of hydro­car­bon refin­ing to set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence in its res­o­nances with the pro­gram­mat­ic dis­ap­pear­ance of Indige­nous lan­guage, and in its descrip­tion of the speech of hydro­car­bons as a kind of “ozone / throat / music” (57). Cru­cial­ly, Bat­tler is not con­struct­ing some kind of equiv­a­lence between the expe­ri­ences of Indige­nous peo­ples in the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem and the expe­ri­ences of hydro­car­bons caught in the Frac­tion­ater. Instead, with Unrau, we might bet­ter describe Battler’s project in “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball” as call­ing atten­tion to the con­ti­nu­ities between these sites and spaces of extrac­tion. The poem posi­tions petro­chem­i­cal refin­ing as relat­ed to, that is, with­in that same geneal­o­gy and frame­work of set­tler colo­nial­ism. This is to under­stand the Cana­di­an state as depen­dent on a dou­ble move: the attempt­ed era­sure of Indige­nous ways of life fol­lowed by the appro­pri­a­tion of Indige­nous lands, goods, and knowl­edges. This is also to recall Wong’s state­ment, which opened this essay, about the uneven dis­tri­b­u­tion of risk that over­whelm­ing­ly places petro­chem­i­cal infra­struc­ture such as pipelines and refiner­ies in Indige­nous, racial­ized, and poor com­mu­ni­ties. Indeed, this under­stand­ing of the con­ti­gu­i­ty between set­tler colo­nial­ism and the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try returns us to the poet­ics of wit­ness­ing invoked in that first line, “look,” and to the doc­u­men­ta­tion of sites and instances of envi­ron­men­tal racism. This is a wit­ness­ing with a dif­fer­ence, how­ev­er, one that refus­es the “remove” of the tra­di­tion­al oil poem speak­er iden­ti­fied by Rausch­er, and that asks the read­er to feel uncom­fort­able in their own plea­sure with the text and prox­im­i­ty to oil.

While “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball” reimag­ines the role of the com­plic­it or com­pro­mised wit­ness in petro­cul­tures, the text also enacts a cri­tique of petro­chem­i­cal dis­course by virtue of its rela­tion­ship to the source mate­r­i­al. I want to close with an extend­ed engage­ment with one poem—“Radiant Diacel”—that, in my read­ing, begins in dis­cur­sive cri­tique, but arrives at an expan­sive artic­u­la­tion of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of poet­ic utter­ance. “Dia­cel” is pre­cise­ly the kind of vacant cor­po­rate speech that Bat­tler plays with through­out the text. It is a sim­u­lacrum of lan­guage, a mean­ing­less approx­i­ma­tion of a word, a lex­i­cal con­fec­tion that reg­is­ters as some­thing close enough, or that might mean some­thing.9 “Radi­ant Dia­cel” com­bines this kind of cor­po­rate, petro­chem­i­cal speech with var­i­ous source mate­ri­als relat­ing to Mar­tin Luther, the Protes­tant reformer. The poem is writ­ten in two voic­es: a more objec­tive, nar­ra­to­r­i­al voice, and the appro­pri­at­ed first-per­son writ­ings of Luther him­self. A sec­tion sub­ti­tled “Mar­burg” opens with these four stanzas:

Luther edits his viscosity
deposits the excess slurry
of his vocabulary
devi­ates from ver­ti­cal wells
drilled by the Colloquy
dares test Eth­yl Lead
declares it Unready
insists on the physical
wet­ta­bil­i­ty of the Holy Spir­it” (69)

This pas­sage exem­pli­fies Battler’s treat­ment of lan­guage as unre­fined petro­le­um by col­laps­ing the two into one anoth­er: both are “vis­cous” and capa­ble of being “slurred.” Through­out Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons, Bat­tler builds her poems through a care­ful atten­tion to the rep­e­ti­tion of sounds. In this pas­sage we have “vis­cos­i­ty,” “deposits,” “slur­ry,” “vocab­u­lary,” “Col­lo­quy,” “wet­ta­bil­i­ty,” and “Unready.” The effect, to my ear, is one of thickening—the lan­guage of the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try is heavy in the mouth. The pas­sage, how­ev­er, also super­im­pos­es petro­chem­i­cal con­cerns onto the his­tor­i­cal events involv­ing Luther. The Mar­burg Col­lo­quy is no longer con­cerned with the inter­pre­ta­tion of the Eucharist, but with “drilling” “ver­ti­cal wells”; Luther is no longer con­cerned with the pres­ence of the Lord in the bread and wine, but with “wet­ta­bil­i­ty,” that is, the ten­den­cy of flu­id to adhere to a sol­id pres­ence, a key area of inter­est for bitu­men extrac­tion. The pas­sage per­forms its own tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion of the Holy Spir­it: from imma­te­r­i­al pres­ence to liq­uid oil.

In an ear­li­er sec­tion of the poem that car­ries the sub­ti­tle “Mar­tin Luther and the birth of / Indi­vid­ual Reser­voir Pres­sure,” Luther is described by the nar­ra­to­r­i­al voice as

haunt­ed by hydraulic pumps
caught in faulty log­ic, he
promis­es to rid the world of
Cathod­ic cor­rup­tion.” (68)

Again, we can see the text’s insis­tence on pil­ing up or accret­ing sim­i­lar sounds, in this case in the asso­nance of “haunt,” “hydraulic,” “caught,” and “faulty.” If the “slur­ry” of sounds not­ed above reflect­ed the text’s “vis­cos­i­ty,” we might read this passage’s invo­ca­tion of “haunt­ing” through a dif­fer­ent metaphor: radioac­tiv­i­ty and decay. Here, again, we can dis­cern the ways in which appro­pri­at­ed text, for Bat­tler, emerges as iso­topic in its capac­i­ty for decay and trans­for­ma­tion. This is what hap­pens in the shift from “Catholic cor­rup­tion” to “Cathod­ic corruption”—the low­er-case “l” reor­ga­nizes itself into a “d,” recall­ing the reshaped “alpha / bets” of “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball.” This slight shift trans­forms Luther’s project: from re-inter­pret­ing Catholic teach­ings to rid­ding the world of pipeline corrosion.

If “Catholic” is marked vis­i­bly in its trans­for­ma­tion into “Cathod­ic,” else­where in the poem Battler’s sub­sti­tu­tions mul­ti­ply sig­ni­fi­ca­tion across the petro­chem­i­cal and reformist reg­is­ters. For exam­ple, Luther’s infa­mous burn­ing of the papal bull is ren­dered thus: “Luther burns the bull allow­ing nun­cios / to sell Unlead­ed at Sta­tions of the Cross” (68). The papal bull of 1520, which excom­mu­ni­cat­ed Luther from the church, list­ed forty-one state­ments of Luther’s that were con­sid­ered devi­a­tions from Church doc­trine. One of these was the “sale of Indulgences”—essentially, a pur­chased par­don for spe­cif­ic sins. The injec­tion of “Unlead­ed” into the space of the page inflects lan­guage that remains oth­er­wise sta­t­ic: the “Sta­tions of the Cross,” sites of prayer and reflec­tion on Jesus’s sac­ri­fice, become avail­able as gas sta­tions. In my read­ing, in this lone lex­i­cal sub­sti­tu­tion, there is an echo of Edward Burtynsky’s infa­mous “Breeze­wood” pho­to­graph from his 2009 series Oil. “Breeze­wood” is a low angle pho­to­graph of Pennsylvania’s “Gas Vegas,” a clot­ted stretch of road between I-70 and the Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike, over­stuffed with gas sta­tions and fast-food restau­rants. The space of the pho­to­graph fea­tures no less than six sep­a­rate Exxon Mobil logos, at var­i­ous depths, with one tow­er­ing over the image, almost as a cru­ci­fix. And that Exxon logo itself: doesn’t the trade­marked “inter­lock­ing X” design car­ry more than a faint trace of resem­blance to the cross, as it is tra­di­tion­al­ly rep­re­sent­ed in the Sta­tions of the Cross, car­ried at an angle across Jesus’s back?

The trans­for­ma­tion of “Indul­gences” into “Unleaded”—and, more gen­er­al­ly, the cou­pling of Luther’s reli­gious texts and petro­chem­i­cal “pro­duc­tion language”—might be under­stood as an implic­it claim about the excess­es of oil cap­i­tal­ism. Indeed, in much the same way that Battler’s lin­guis­tic play refracts and recom­bines mean­ing and sense through the recon­sti­tu­tion of indi­vid­ual words, the two terms might them­selves be pro­duc­tive­ly framed and reframed. We “indulge” in “unlead­ed” dai­ly, embed­ded as we are in the total­i­ty of the petro­cul­tur­al infra­struc­tures that under­gird the set­tler-colo­nial nation-state. At the same time, how­ev­er, I want to close by sug­gest­ing that Battler’s play­ful­ness through­out Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons also opens onto the sin­cere belief in the trans­for­ma­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of poet­ic utter­ance. The pair­ing of “Indul­gences” and “Unlead­ed,” in this read­ing, also draws the reader’s atten­tion to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of “reform,” both at a for­mal lev­el in Battler’s sub­tle manip­u­la­tions of a range of source texts, and in a grander, con­cep­tu­al reg­is­ter. It is here that I want to offer that “excess,” gen­er­at­ed by the accre­tive and iso­topic appro­pria­tive poet­ics of Bat­tler, as a kind of sup­ple­men­tary utterance—an aspi­ra­tional com­po­si­tion­al mode adja­cent to the absolute­ly nec­es­sary cri­tiques of anti-cap­i­tal­ist and eco­log­i­cal orga­niz­ers. In this mod­el, the poet­ic embod­ies a “dis­sensu­al recal­ci­trance”10 that under­mines the assump­tion of fos­sil fuel’s pres­ence, or of things as they are.


How do we square Battler’s sta­tus as “insid­er” to the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try with a poet­ry that, in my read­ing, argues at once for an under­stand­ing of extrac­tive projects with­in a lin­eage of set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence, while also imag­in­ing lines of flight out of petro-depen­dence? I have argued that Battler’s petropo­et­ics marks a depar­ture from the “wit­ness­ing” or objec­tive reportage that char­ac­ter­izes much con­tem­po­rary envi­ron­men­tal lit­er­a­ture, pre­cise­ly in its refusal of a san­i­tized sep­a­ra­tion from the scenes of vio­lence it doc­u­ments. Where­as, in the Luther­an sense, the pur­chase of “Indul­gences” is abso­lu­tion, Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons has no pre­ten­sions to puri­ty in its engage­ment with the petro­cul­tur­al dis­course that it appro­pri­ates and “refines.” Bat­tler reminds us that the poet, poems, speak­ers, and read­ers are all com­pro­mised, togeth­er in the muck of pro­duc­tion lan­guage. Cru­cial­ly, how­ev­er, it is the poet­ic that cracks that cor­po­rate speech open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an oth­er­wise. This is to uncou­ple poet­ry from the surface/depth mod­el asso­ci­at­ed with cri­tique (and oil extrac­tion) and rec­og­nize it as an enac­tive utter­ance capa­ble of mobi­liz­ing affects. It is to rec­og­nize the poet­ic itself as an entrance into dis­sensu­al rela­tion. And it is to under­stand Battler’s iso­topic poetics—the ener­gy release of “alpha” and “beta” decay that reor­ga­nizes our “alpha­bets,” the slight shifts that trans­form meaning—as map­ping the route, through minor, some­times imper­cep­ti­ble tran­si­tions, to alter­na­tive ways of being and relat­ing to land, ener­gy, and one another.


My deep­est thanks to Emi­ly Roehl, Rachel Jekanows­ki, and the anony­mous read­ers whose thought­ful com­ments and sug­ges­tions helped shape the final essay. I grate­ful­ly acknowl­edge the sup­port of the Kil­lam Trusts.

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Rausch­er, Judith. “Cana­di­an Petro-Poet­ics: Mas­culin­i­ty, Labor, and Envi­ron­ment in Math­ew Henderson’s The Lease.” Ener­gy in Lit­er­a­ture: Essays on Ener­gy and Its Social and Envi­ron­men­tal Impli­ca­tions in Twen­ti­eth and Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry Lit­er­ary Texts. Edit­ed by Paula Anca Far­ca, True­heart Aca­d­e­m­ic, 2014, pp. 99-111.

Simp­son, Mark. “Lubric­i­ty: Smooth Oil’s Polit­i­cal Fric­tions.” Petro­cul­tures: Oil, Pol­i­tics, Cul­ture, edit­ed by Sheena Wil­son, et al., McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017, pp. 287-318.

Suther­land, Kate. The Bones Are There. Book*hug P, 2020.

Sze­man, Imre. “Con­jec­tures on World Ener­gy Lit­er­a­ture: Or, What is Petro­cul­ture?” Jour­nal of Post­colo­nial Writ­ing, vol. 53, no. 3, 2017, pp. 277-288.

Unrau, Melanie Den­nis. “‘Tend the rust­ed steel like a shep­herd’: Petropo­et­ics of Oil Work in Cana­da.” 2019. U of Man­i­to­ba, PhD dissertation.

Wong, Rita. “Rita Wong’s Pub­lic Sen­tenc­ing State­ment.” Talon­books, https://​talon​books​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​r​i​t​a​-​w​o​n​g​-​s​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​s​e​n​t​e​n​c​i​n​g​-​s​t​a​t​e​m​ent. Accessed 11 Sept. 2021.

Yusoff, Kathryn. A Bil­lion Black Anthro­pocenes or None. U of Min­neso­ta P, 2019.

Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: Page 57 from “The Petro­chem­i­cal Ball,” excerpt­ed from Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons © 2015 by Les­ley Bat­tler. Used with per­mis­sion of Book*hug Press.


  1. A brief and non-exhaus­tive overview of recent poet­ry col­lec­tions pub­lished in Cana­da that engage in what I am describ­ing here as an eco­log­i­cal­ly inflect­ed poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion would include Stephen Col­lis and Jor­dan Scott’s Decomp (2013), Ceci­ly Nicholson’s From the Poplars (2014), Jor­dan Abel’s Un/Inhabited (2014), David Martin’s Tar Swan (2018), and Kate Sutherland’s The Bones are There (2020).

  2. I have writ­ten pre­vi­ous­ly about “poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion” in Nisga’a poet Jor­dan Abel’s The Place of Scraps. There, I argued that Abel’s era­sure poems, which incor­po­rate and manip­u­late text from the sal­vage ethno­g­ra­ph­er Mar­ius Barbeau’s Totem Poles, “constitute[d] an appro­pri­ate return” for the erasures—literal and figurative—of Barbeau’s anthro­po­log­i­cal prac­tice (71).

  3. Mar­jorie Perloff names the pro­lif­er­a­tion of appro­pria­tive poet­ics “uno­rig­i­nal genius” and relates it to the ubiq­ui­ty of the Inter­net in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, which “has made copy­ists, recy­clers, tran­scribers, col­la­tors, and reframers of us all” (41); Ken­neth Goldsmith’s intro­duc­to­ry essay to the 2011 anthol­o­gy he co-edit­ed with Craig Dworkin sim­i­lar­ly posi­tions the “rise of the Inter­net” as a cat­a­lyst for the explo­sion of “strate­gies of copy­ing and appro­pri­a­tion” (xvi­ii). For a more recent treat­ment of the pol­i­tics of con­tem­po­rary appro­pria­tive poet­ics, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on era­sure poems, see L’Abbé.

  4. In an essay describ­ing her poet­ic prax­is, Bat­tler uses this term to refer to the indus­tri­al dis­course that she acts upon: “I am treat­ing pro­duc­tion lan­guage as crude oil, exca­vat­ing, treat­ing, mix­ing, inject­ing these texts to emu­late extrac­tion process­es used by the indus­try” (“Quar­clet”).

  5. It is impos­si­ble to reduce to a foot­note the range of vital and inno­v­a­tive schol­ar­ship that is expand­ing the scope of envi­ron­men­tal human­i­ties, broad­ly speak­ing, but some key the­o­ret­i­cal inter­locu­tors for my think­ing about an increas­ing­ly inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and inter­sec­tion­al eco­crit­i­cism and ecopo­et­ics include: the crit­i­cal-cre­ative work of Alex­is Pauline Gumbs, par­tic­u­lar­ly Dub: Find­ing Cer­e­mo­ny (2020), and Tiffany Lethabo King’s The Black Shoals: Off­shore For­ma­tions in Black and Native Stud­ies (2019); War­ren Cariou’s cre­ative prac­tice of “pet­rog­ra­phy” and schol­ar­ship on the pol­i­tics of ener­gy in Indige­nous cul­tures (see Car­i­ou and Gor­don); and the pletho­ra of crit­i­cal con­tes­ta­tions of Anthro­pocene dis­course, from Heather Davis and Zoe Todd’s “On the Impor­tance of a Date, or, Decol­o­niz­ing the Anthro­pocene” (2017) to Kathryn Yusoff’s A Bil­lion Black Anthro­pocenes or None (2019), and many oth­ers (for an overview of cri­tiques and recon­sid­er­a­tions of the term “Anthro­pocene,” see DeLoughrey).

  6. Many crit­ics posi­tion Ami­tav Ghosh’s 1992 review of Abdel­rah­man Munif’s Cities of Salt and The Trench as the ur-text of petro­cul­tur­al crit­i­cism. Ghosh’s attempt to parse why and how “The Oil Encounter […] has pro­duced scarce­ly a sin­gle work of note” became a touch­stone for crit­ics (29), who con­tin­ue to under­line a gap between oil’s cen­tral­i­ty in con­tem­po­rary life and its igno­rance in con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture.

  7. At the same time as Boet­zkes empha­sizes oil cor­po­ra­tions’ invo­ca­tions of trans­paren­cy, Mark Simp­son, in an essay includ­ed lat­er in the same col­lec­tion, points out spe­cif­ic cor­po­rate acts of occlu­sion, such as the mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the North­ern Gate­way pipeline and trans­port routes includ­ed in an Enbridge-pro­duced video (see Simp­son 287-288).

  8. Unrau’s broad­er read­ing of Endan­gered Hydro­car­bons tracks the text’s par­o­d­ic invo­ca­tions of Andrew Nikiforuk’s con­cept of the ener­gy slave, while also argu­ing that the text “takes seri­ous­ly the ani­ma­cy of our ener­gy source” to sug­gest a mode of “Attend­ing to ener­gy slaves” that impli­cates “car­ing for and lis­ten­ing to our hydro­car­bon, human, and more-than-human rela­tions” (228).

  9. There are a few hits for the term on Google. As far as I can tell, “Dia­cel” refers to a series of fil­ter prod­ucts pro­duced by a Ger­man com­pa­ny called CFF GmbH & Co. KG: they are “bio-degrad­able and offer high sus­tain­abil­i­ty and out­stand­ing envi­ron­men­tal com­pat­i­bil­i­ty,” accord­ing to the com­pa­ny web­site (“DIACEL®”).

  10. I bor­row this phrase from Brent Ryan Bel­lamy, Michael O’Driscoll, and Mark Simpson’s intro­duc­tion to a spe­cial issue of Post­mod­ern Cul­ture on “Resource Aes­thet­ics.” “Dis­sensu­al recal­ci­trance” is a beau­ti­ful and deft turn of phrase for describ­ing Battler’s poet­ics of appro­pri­a­tion, which merges the collection’s oppo­si­tion­al or crit­i­cal pose with its dif­fi­cul­ty or refusal to be con­tained.