Within ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ the speaker addresses the “Anthropocene”. This word, which is used much more frequently today than when it was first coined in the mid-1900s, refers to a geological epoch that deals from the period at which human beings first made a significant impact on the earth. It is said to have begun sometime between 12,000-15,000 years ago. The term is primarily concerned with changes to biological life, non-human nature, and the climate.
Within this piece, Perez takes the reader to what was the contemporary year of the poem’s publication, 2015. In the Anthropocene at that time, as it is today, the world is in shambles. The somber and serious mood of the poem aligns with the poet’s exacting and moving tone. A reader should come away considering themes of human rights, the future, and environmental change.
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Summary of Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015
In the first lines of ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ the speaker begins by setting the scene. It is Halloween, specifically as the title suggests, in 2015. It’s a dark day and the moon shines bright against the oil-black sky. With this moody setting in place, the speaker describes black boys suffering under the heat of the West African sun carrying caoco. This is a shocking transition and one that a reader expecting a poem about Halloween will be surprised by.
The suffering of these children is brought into even clearer focus when compared to the frivolous joy of a little girl dressed up as a Disney princess. The distinction between these two children and the unaddressed privilege of the latter is the focus of this section.
As the poem goes on the speaker brings in other children from all over the world. They are compared with their counterparts who celebrate, without worry, Halloween. There are young men in Asia who are forced to commit suicide as the only escape from their jobs. They are juxtaposed with children dressed as ninjas. There are also child laborers making “our clothes” and native youths suffering under the conditions we forced upon them through historical and contemporary colonial pursuits. They are brought into focus by contrasting them with culturally appropriated imagery of “cowboys and Indians”.
The poem concludes with the speaker urging the reader to see these people he’s mentioned. As well as the millions of others suffering around the world. He connects these stories to the wider global, climate Anthropocene, and what seems to be at this point the inevitable decline of our world.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of the Poem
‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ by Craig Santos Perez is an eleven stanza poem that’s separated into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, but there are instances of half-rhyme within the text. Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, the “s” sound in the second line of the third stanza: “Let us praise the souls of brown girls who sew” and similar assonant and consonant sounds in “clusters” and “us” in stanza ten.
Perez makes use of several poetic techniques and devices in ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ these include caesura, alliteration, simile, repetition, and enjambment. The latter, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. For example, the reuse of the words “Let us” throughout the poem. These two words act as a refrain, bring the poem together musically and unifying it through a common analysis and reflection of Halloween and the children who participate in it.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “eyes” and “mines” in stanza seven and eight and “pains” and “praise” in stanza nine.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed with an important turn or transition in the text. There are several examples throughout ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’. These include line three of the ninth stanza: “fish and refugee children. Let us praise our mothers” and line three of the eleventh: “will be haunted — leave them, leave us, leave”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. Examples include the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza and line three of the fifth stanza and line one of the sixth.
Analysis of Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015
Darkness spills across the sky like an oil plume.(…)praise the sacrificed. Praise the souls of black
In the first stanza of ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ the speaker begins by setting the tone. He uses a simile to describe the sky on Halloween. “Darkness” moves across it just as a plume of oil would spill across the ground, steadily spreading. The night is extra dark, and juxtaposed with the moon that shines as if made of “bleached coral”. The speaker makes the first use of the phrase “let us praise” in lines two and three. He asks that “we” remember the “sacrificed”.
Juxtaposition becomes quite important in the next lines. The speaker discusses “black boys” in coordination with girls dressed up for Halloween.
boys, enslaved by supply chains, who carry(…)or treat, smell my feet, give me something good
In the next lines of ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ the speaker draws the reader’s attention to something truly dark and horrifying that does not normally find itself being discussed along with a mainstream holiday. He brings up the boys enslaved “by supply chains” in West Africa. They “carry bags of cacao”. Immediately he moves into the words of a young girl. The very well-known Halloween tune “Trick / or treat, smell my feet, give me something good / to eat” is interjected and a reader has to jump down to the third line to find out who is singing.
to eat,” sings a girl dressed as a Disney princess.(…)our clothes as fire unthreads sweatshops into
The poet draws as great a contrast as possible by bringing in the character of a young girl “dressed as a Disney princess”. This image is immediately followed up by that of other brown girls. These girls, lacking the privilege of the former as sewing “our clothes” in sweatshops. By uses the plural pronoun “our” in the third line of this stanza the speaker is implicating himself and everyone else in the prolonging and supporting the practice of child labor. The situation is made worse by the terrible conditions, in this case, the sweatshop is depicted as going up into flames and becoming as the fourth stanza adds, “smoke and ash”.
smoke and ash. “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me(…)Tonight, let us praise the souls of Asian children
Another refrain of the “Trick or treat” song appears in this stanza of ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ . here, there are “kids disguised as ninjas”. The culturally appropriate image is related back to the “Asian children” discussed further in the fifth stanza. Cultural misappropriation is one of several reoccurring themes in ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’. It refers to the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another.
In almost all cases this is done by a dominant culture in order to take advantage of a disadvantaged one. This is a form of modern colonialism that is only in recent years truly being addressed as a major issue in our society. Examples span from the realm of fashion and hair to sports and music. Most prominently, cultural misappropriation can be spotted through the white-washing of television and movies. Meaning, when a white person is cast to play a character of color.
who manufacture toys and tech until gravity sharpens(…)“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me,” shout boys
They “manufacture toys and tech”. The image darkens further with a referent to a spate of suicides known as the Foxconn suicides. These deaths took place at locations throughout Mainland China. In an effort to hide the detrimental conditions in their factories and save face, the company forced employees to sign waivers releasing them from liability. They also installed safety netting around the facility, leading Perez to insert the phrase “suicide nets” into this depiction. In 2010 there were 18 attempted suicides with 20 more workers being talked down.
camouflaged as soldiers. Let us praise the souls(…)only triggers will pull God into their ruined
‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ repeats the same pattern, jumping in with another refrain of “Trick or treat smell my feet”. This time sun by “boys camouflaged as soldiers. They are compared to the “veterans who salute with their guns because / triggers will pull God into their ruined / temples”. The mood of the poem only darkens as the poet confronts the reader with the horrifying truths that we all so often ignore in favor of going on with our everyday lives.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
temples. “Trick or treat, smell my feet,” chant kids(…)or treat,” says a boy dressed as the sun. Let us
The next two stanzas of ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ are among the most striking and memorable in this piece. The speaker contrasts the children, again with culturally appropriate imagery, this time of “cowboys and Indians” with the “souls of native youth”. He speaks on the state of native and indigenous populations. Then uses a metaphor to say that their eyes are “open-put uranium mines”. Through the actions of our governments their minds, bodies, and lands have been destroyed.
Stanzas Nine, Ten, and Eleven
praise El Niño, his growing pains, praise his mother,(…)will be haunted — leave them, leave us, leave —
The next two stanzas of ‘Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015’ speaks on imagery that is traditionally associated with the Anthropocene. This includes that of the climate crisis and its related disasters. Perez presents a child dressed as the sun first. They are then juxtaposed with the dying, warming ocean and the “dead / fish and refugee children”.
There is a turn in the poem at this point. “Praise” becomes “pray”. The speaker asks that everyone see and understand the terrors going on in the world around us. We must “pray” for the lost habitats and the fallout. We have to “pray” for the world impacted by extinction and greed. He states that “our costumes / won’t hide the trust cost of our greed”. Despite our best efforts to ignore what’s going on in the world, nothing is going away. It’s all there, under our noses.
The poem concludes with the speaker listing out a series of disasters playing out all over the world. As well as asking everyone to look, and look now, at what’s going on. He says that “even tomorrow,” the day after Halloween, will be haunted. The last line ends with an em-dash, leaving the reader to consider the implications of how they live their own life, the suffering of others, and how they must change in the present to help those who will surely otherwise be suffering in the future.