Ada Wofford reviews ‘Deep Time: Volume 2’ anthology from Black Bough Poetry

Deep Time: Volume 2
Black Bough Poetry

Deep Time: Volume 2 is a fascinating and unique collection of poetry inspired by Robert McFarlane’s book Underland: A Deep Time Journey. The blurb on Amazon describes McFarlane’s book as:

‘[. . .] an exploration of the world beneath our feet…[that] dives into catacombs, caves, nuclear waste facilities, and the land beneath Greenland’s shrinking ice cap to delve into the darker recesses of our imaginations…Expanding his journey into the realm of “deep time”—a parallel expanse of past and future almost unimaginable to human intellect.’

Using McFarlane’s text as source material, Deep Time gathers together several short poems from a myriad of poets and organized into five sections: Underworld, Liquid Walls, Fossil Record, Mined, and Anthropocene II. Each section is introduced with stunning artwork by Rebecca Wainwright. The experience goes even deeper with original compositions inspired by the collection by Stuart Rawlinson, which are available to stream for free, along with readings of the poems via Black Borough’s Soundcloud. This multimedia approach creates a wonderfully engaging experience that is unique among poetry collections.

The poems in this collection are all very short. None of them go beyond a single page, with most pages containing two or three poems. This format creates a nice pace and allows for the collection to include several different voices and perspectives without feeling overcrowded or overwhelming. The most rewarding aspect of reading Deep Time seeing how each poet approaches the given theme for each section.

Though the poems in each section, taken as a whole, possess a certain consistency or continuity, the ambiguity of the themes themselves remain intact, creating a body of work as mysterious as it is engaging. Underworld takes the reader into the abyss; caves, rocks, and darkness all appear frequently in this section. In Liquid Walls, we start to see signs of light, water, and even vegetation. Fossil Record is ironically more alive than the previous two sections with poems exploring our interaction with nature, such as in Dai Fry’s ‘Dancing Alone.’ This section also begins to shift more towards people and “the self.” Minded is the least ambiguous section, featuring several poems about miners. Anthropocene II explores humans’ dominance over nature and its disastrous results, best exemplified in Kip Knott’s ‘Hangman’:

‘Because we are afraid of Heaven,
we make this world Hell.
We tie the smoke of distant factories around our throats and wait
for someone to pull its gray rope’ (55)

I read a lot of poetry this year and Deep Time: Volume 2 truly stands out as something adventurous and unique. The focus on nature and place is both thought provoking and meaningful given our current climate crisis. The thematic sections inject some order and coherence into a collection of different voices and perspectives, yet it retains an element of the mysterious that encourages the reader to really dig into the text. The experience is heightened by the inclusion of artwork and supplemental music and audio readings. The combination of all these elements makes Deep Time feel less like a book and more like an event—An event you definitely do not want to miss.