Borrowed waters: Water crisis and water justice in Rita Wong’s undercurrent

Hannah Boast*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In recent years ecocriticism and the environmental humanities have undergone a ‘hydrological turn’, sometimes referred to as the emergence of the ‘blue humanities’. This ‘turn’ has, however, typically focused on the maritime and oceanic rather than the fresh water essential for the reproduction of much life on earth. In this article I analyse contemporary Canadian poet Rita Wong’s 2015 collection undercurrent for thematic and formal insights into how dominant ways of understanding water have enabled its exploitation within the capitalist world-system. I argue that Wong’s poetry resists a concept that geographer Jamie Linton calls ‘modern water’ (2010, p. 14), or water as ultimately reducible to abstract molecules of ‘H2O’ circulating within the hydrological cycle. Wong’s poems illustrate how this concept has facilitated the exhaustion and contamination of the world’s water in the pursuit of profit, amplifying these concerns in formal strategies that situate local Canadian water histories within what Jason W. Moore describes as capitalism’s ‘world-ecological regime’. I combine world-systems theory with Indigenous, ecofeminist and posthumanist thought to show how Wong’s poetry models non-anthropocentric modes of relating to water and other water-dependent beings that move towards environmental justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)747-767
Number of pages21
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number5
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Blue Humanities
  • Canadian literature
  • contemporary poetry
  • water crisis
  • water politics


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