Decolonizing the Apocalypse through Etuaptmumk // Tiffany Morris

Tiffany Morris writes about processes of witnessing, and turning our witness to etuaptmumk as a means of conceiving of the future in our guest edited month exploring Ecopoetics.

It’s strange to write about apocalypse ecopoetics in a springtime of pestilence and isolation. The COVID-19 virus is spreading: healthcare, government, and economic systems have been thrown into crisis, people are dying, the red maple trees are budding and mayflowers are blooming with minimized witness. There is chaos, there is order, and there are many tenuous, shifting territories between them.

Two weeks ago, when I was on my favourite city trail, the mud was black and newly thawed. The pond is now closed to the public, and there is solace in knowing that nothing there depends upon my witness or participation. The deer will still trod through the paths and the squirrels will dodge crows on the spruce limbs. It is the site of my submersion into the natural world, but it is also, simply, a place. I go to the pond to forget the division between myself and nature, a division that seems ridiculous but feels inevitable: it’s built into the cityscape, into the capitalist-consumerist cycle, into the distraction of rent and bills and responsibilities. My best friend, who lives in a small mountain home without running water, has to chop wood and identify animal tracks in the snow. She does not experience this problem of division in the same way. Yet the acts of witness and participation mean that we face some level of negotiation with the landscape, as well as with the real, artificial, and interstitial borders between ourselves, our selves, and what we call nature.

Poetry is one of our many processes of witness, and it happens regardless of style or iteration: in this case, both ecopoetry and speculative poetry have their modes of witness. Ecopoetry allows us to distill the landscape, and our negotiation with it, into the urgent and the immediate, the image system and the semantic field. In the rich ground of speculative poetry, like horror, sci-fi, or fantasy poetry, we encounter landscapes and worlds ranging from the fantastical to the futuristic to the macabre. The immediacy of speculative poetic witness is one that necessarily asks questions; it is where the ontological and spatial meet the imaginative.

Ecopoetry, like speculative poetry, utilizes the world that exists to create new worlds altogether. In the ecopoetics of climate crisis, there is also the duality of witness and speculation: what is happening at present, and what can we do to mitigate, predict, or negotiate with the future? Apocalypse ecopoetics deals with this crisis of world-ending and collapse, and the urgency of climate crisis is central to that mode. But there is, if nothing else, room to imagine a new world where an old one ends: one of healing, decolonization, and futurity.

Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall brought forward the concept of etuaptmumk, or Two-Eyed Seeing, to describe a holistic worldview wherein Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems work to inform each other, in the manner of two eyes, and provide a whole picture of the world around us. Etuaptmumk is an important concept for how we conceive of the future—and, in the context of climate change, exists in stark opposition to the ecofascist ideology that centres humans as a parasitic or aberrant presence in nature. Etuaptmumk can be, in short, a method of decolonizing our thinking around the apocalypse. Holding these dualities in mind is important. We can also look to other modes of duality and interstices when we look to the future of poetry, ecopoetry, and speculative poetry: we can simultaneously see the hope in the shining green solarpunk future while holding sacred the fungal importance of decay in the necropastoral.

If we are to decolonize the apocalypse, we must re-orient ourselves to see new and old connections between the self and the landscape. In turning our witness to etuaptmumk and other dualities, we can resist the concept of systemic-artificial as inevitable, recognize the fecundity in decline, and see crisis as crucible. We can, in short, utilize our witness to create new worlds and make them better than the one that faced the apocalypse. We can, and must, also write poetry about it.

Tiffany Morris is a Mi'kmaw editor and writer of speculative poetry from K'jipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia. She is the author of the chapbook Havoc in Silence (Molten Molecular Minutiae, 2019). Her work has appeared in Room Magazine, Prairie Fire, and Augur Magazine, among others. Find her online at or twitter @tiffmorris

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