Toward Antarctica

Boreal Books/Red Hen Press, May 2019

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Poet-naturalist Elizabeth Bradfield’s fourth collection documents and queries her work as a guide on ships in Antarctica, offering an incisive insider’s vision that challenges traditional tropes of The Last Continent.  Inspired by haibun, a form the 17th-century poet Bashō invented to chronicle his journeys in remote Japan, Bradfield uses photographs, compressed prose, and short poems to examine our relationships to remoteness, discovery, expertise, awe, labor, temporary societies, tourism’s service economy, and “pure” landscapes.  Antarctica was the focus of Bradfield’s Approaching Ice, written before she had set foot on the continent; now Toward Antarctica furthers her investigation with boots on the ground.  A complicated love letter, Toward Antarctica offers a unique view of one of the world’s most iconic wild places.


  • Throughout the book, Bradfield foregrounds her awareness of how her simple presence—not to mention her curiosity and longing for ad- venture, qualities that define the work of scientific disciplines—is a very real harm in this fragile place."
    --Kathryn Nuernberger, "Radical Research and the Scientific Method: Tracking a New Trajectory through Four Recent Poetry Collections," Missouri Review, Fall 2019
  • "Elizabeth Bradfield’s Toward Antarctica (Boreal Books, 2019) also belongs in the hands of anyone still seeking a renewed appreciation for the grandeur of the natural world. ...The pictures are breathtaking, full of bright-eyed birds and sea ice smashing into land."
    --Emma Winters, America Magazine, November 1, 2019
  • "I admire travel writers who make a simultaneous inner and outer journey, and allow them to intersect messily, amidst tussle and complication. Toward Antarctica contains all of this and clears another high bar in the process. It shows Antarctica, a mythic continent, as a living place. Not a blank slate on which to inscribe ego, not a venue for romanticism, but a world, a bioregion, and for very well-suited creatures, a home." -- Christine Byl, The Women's Review of Books, Sept/Oct 2019
  • "the title suggests that the goal is always shifting and what matters is the journey you take toward any kind of knowledge. Bradfield’s book is humble. It is not a record of her being the first person to do anything. Instead it is a laborer’s tale, full of the kind of language those who work as support staff on ocean-based expeditions to Antarctica use. It is replete with words like bulkhead and Zodiac, float coat and full landing gear; and it recounts in sharp lyric prose the ways in which a ship is a metaphor for a republic or even the entire earth." -- "Searching for Women’s Voices in the Harshest Landscape on Earth" Elizabeth Rush on Antarctica, the "Last Male Sanctuary." LitHub, September 2019
  • A radio conversation with Mindy Todd, host of WCAI's "The Point" about Toward Antarctica (August, 2019)


I enjoyed Elizabeth Bradfield's words and images from the Big White. Hers is an unusual approach, and one that is to be welcomed in the still small canon of artistic responses to the Antarctic – particularly by women. I wholeheartedly recommend this special book.    
Sara Wheeler, author of Terra Incognita
Reading Elizabeth Bradfield’s Toward Antarctica is like having a poet’s behind-the-scenes tour of a natural history museum. Through her expert eyes, the exquisite landscape and wildlife come into vivid view; so do the gutsy work and responsibility of being an naturalist guide. Inspired by Japanese haibun form, the book pairs the lyric intensity of poetry with the fragmented, staccato prose of a mind trying to keep track of the flood of experience. Bradfield’s gorgeous photographs add yet another dimension of aesthetic experience. Her work is a resonant exploration of bringing art and science together to sing a mindful duet.
 - Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Stairway to Heaven
Toward Antarctica is most original piece of travel writing about the Antarctic region I have read in years, combining the emotional honesty, immediacy, and telegraphic brevity of the diary with the literary control and imagistic precision of a fine poet. Through both her photographs and her writing Bradfield challenges the clichés of the conventional Antarctic journey narrative while conveying a profound appreciation of the region’s natural environment and human history. Bradfield is well-informed but uninterested in asserting priority or authority, and her writing is lyrical but never overblown. She is a literary tour guide in the best sense.
   - Elizabeth Leane, Antarctic scholar and literary critic

So many of us hunger for Antarctica. For its promise of something so notably new to our experience, pristine. Though very little is wholly pristine on this planet; very little is free of our “fantastic, greasy hope.” It seems fitting that in her deep and thoughtful journey to the site of so many voyager’s ambitions Elizabeth Bradfield would turn to the form Basho found so useful for his own Narrow Road to the Interior. A naturalist, poet, and photographer, Bradfield is as keen eyed about the continent and its surrounding islands as she is about the souls counted present on the ship that takes them there. This balance between expansive views and focused clarity make reading Toward Antarctica almost as good as sailing there ourselves. 
   - Camille T. Dungy, author of Trophic Cascade

Toward Antarctica
is a travelogue, a meditation, a photo-essay, a documentary poem, an ode and an elegy. It is a work of eco- and cultural criticism, personal essay, history, and photojournalism. Like the poem-prose hybrid haibun form which provides the structural basis for this book, Toward Antarctica moves between different genres and literary forms, challenging our notion of what a travel narrative can and should be. The best writers understand that all works of literature are hybrids at heart, and Elizabeth Bradfield pushes the limits of what we imagine poetry can do, capturing her time in Antarctica in lush, yet always tightly controlled images that throb with musical life. With a photographer’s eye and a naturalist’s sense of the world, Bradfield shows us life in Antarctica to be a strange, magical, occasionally lethal mixture of the human and the animal, a place that exists as much in our romantic imaginations as it does in the world itself, an environment that continues to evade our comprehension even as it remains subject to our human impact. Bradfield’s epic poem-memoir shows us that Antarctica is the continent to which we are ever traveling, upon whose shores we never truly arrive.
   - Paisley Rekdal

Modern expedition ships sail south to Antarctica every year, carrying continent-baggers and bucket-listers who drink a toast to Shackleton, pat themselves on the back and heroically claim, We Made It! It takes a poet, and a darn good one, “to at once be there and to not even come close.” This is Elizabeth Bradfield writing to the truth in what she calls, “crepuscular moments of poetry…. Here on this unbridled ocean. Here on this world unto itself.” Having been to Antarctica many times, and studied its literature, I found this book an artful standout from the crowd, one garnished with reflection and rust, humor and humility, sincerity and respect.
   - Kim Heacox, author of Antarctica: The Last Continent and Jimmy Bluefeather


Poems from Toward Antarctica have been published in About Place, Alaska Quarterly Review, Bat City Review, Copper Nickel, EarthDesk, Field, Fourth River, Kenyon Review, Orion Magazine’s Blog, Poetry Northwest, Talking River, The Rumpus,, White Whale Review, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day and the anthology, Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos.

Forthcoming in May, 2019.