Half-life of Empathy


Half-life of Empathy interrogates the complex human/non-human relationship in the Anthropocene. Rooted in the author’s deep fascination and scientific knowledge of ecology, these poems take literal experiences and  explore/distort them with language. Moving away from the traditional nature poem, this work enacts an ecology where a human speaker is decentered and earth regains agency.

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“What a beautiful use of the words of water and geology and all things living. Durham writes a new ecological poetry, resonant, rich, and also very aware of what it means to be writing when this never-ending industrial revolution is putting all at risk.”

—Juliana Spahr, author of That Winter the Wolf Came


“Rebecca A. Durham’s debut collection Half-Life of Empathy builds its lyricism with ‘ears [that] make an I,’ asking ‘What does the sky call you?’  The natural world—through Durham’s poems—calls on the reader to engage with lush tones, rhythms, and senses that are part of Durham’s exquisite botanist world-sense. Each poem deepens its quest with analysis and provocation. With lines holding forth as we move into Durham’s dream life ‘All night I dream I hold clouds. With every movement I sense the edges. I’m water, diving towards the center while my body streams out, encircling.’ I’m in deep admiration of how these poems invite, encircle, and imagine. A gorgeous and thought-provoking collection of poems.”

—Prageeta Sharma, author of Grief Sequence


“In Rebecca A. Durham’s astonishing debut, Half-Life of Empathy, the mutualistic lives of lichens and other creatures interact with the collaborative lives of words: ‘whole is to whirl as friend is to find’ and ‘insects know the bottom of the flower as Sky-Pause.’ Poetry and science form a community in this book, an exemplary and inspiring symbiosis in which we might imagine renewed forms of thinking, feeling, and loving to take us into the challenges of a changing climate and an altered world.”

—Adam Dickinson, author of Anatomic