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In the early stages of planning for Underworld, we sought out emerging cultures, communities and modes of thought in search for a new ecopoetics. In our call for submissions, we made prompts towards depictions of undergrowth – decomposition, transformation, and biodiversity – whilst considering parallel planes, the effects of celestial mechanics upon terrestrial events, and species buried in the strata of deep time. We wondered how queer ecology might reveal an ecopoetics that illuminates the entanglements of the human and the more-than-human. We asked if we can ever define our underworld. What textures should our words have, and how important are their musicality and imagery?

Underworlds are duplicitous; they resist definition, classification, and simplification, and we were inspired by the breadth of submissions, moving beyond what we could have imagined. It became clear that numerous voices had responded to our call: messages from the wood wide web, buzzes from the hive, digressions from worms, a multitude of persons rising from a rotting field ravaged by colonial violence. Soon, a cacophony began to form, from Rachel Rankin’s The Edge of the Loch, where “a rippled halo” disturbs “the murky lichen” to Richard Scott’s Red Tourmaline, a prose poem singing to the beauty of the carmine mineral, “O ancient striations and ruddy-blush fractures”. We were astounded by how the submitted poems built complete worlds, their lines like stratigraphies with a history of their own working and making, bringing forth an ecology of sound, images, and shapes.

In the following pages are poems where mycorrhizae journey across the page in an interconnected, interwoven song between positive and negative space. Familiar mythologies resurface through their own invention. Babies are formed out of celeriac, gardeners are lost to the vines they seek to prune, and odes are written to parasites as they submerge themselves in flesh and complicate the singularity of a body. To quote Stephen Ellcock, ‘‘there is much to be discovered by scrutinising the underbelly of everything” (Underworlds, 2023).

We are also proud to present a series of commissions which took the theme to unexpected and thoughtprovoking places, from Jason Allen-Paisant’s personal essay Growing Language from the Earth, which intertwines the threads of place, colonialism, language, friendship, soil, and ecology, and Meryl Pugh’s The calling and its abatement, which takes the reader into a vivid journey through an English forest, exploring the felt experience of decentering and of trying to write a poem afterwards, to Jade Cuttle’s Mudlarking, which highlights issues of post-coloniality, utterance, history and race.

This editors’ note has, too, been written amidst various worlds: diverse coordinates in space and time. Kate Simpson is in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, visiting The Ring of Cenotes around the site of the Chicxulub crater. These sites, limestone sinkholes named after the Mayan word “Dz’onot” (“well”), were considered entrances to “Xibalba” (“the underworld”). Ella Duffy is writing from Bristol, a city of hills, limestone and the Avon Gorge, which is said to be the work of a digging giant. Further South lie the Mendip Hills, home to an expansive network of underground caves where cellar spiders, horseshoe bats and glass snails can be found. Leo Boix is in the seaside town of Deal, on the east coast of Kent, an area rich in history due to its geological significance and cultural connections with Europe. The land is also home to concealed formations that include rocks from the Mesozoic Era, known from boreholes and shafts in the Kent coalfield, a symbol of the underworld in all its forms.

We hope you’ll enjoy the journey this issue takes you on, around, through, and within.

“Here are many voices, underground and overleaf, branching into form.”

– Kristin Camitta Zimet, An Under-Conversation

Leo Boix, Ella Duffy and Kate Simpson


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