Whitewashed Hope

A group of indigenous leaders co-wrote this piece called ‘Whitewashed Hope’ a couple of years ago – aware now it’s not only about alternative agricultural solutions but could include blind spots in environmentalism and white culture generally. It is important and provocative work for our ongoing learning in diversity, decolonisation and interrupting patterns of harm – something I’m thinking a lot about at the moment. I hope you find something here that opens up new/old pathways.

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A message from 10+ Indigenous leaders and organizations

Regenerative Agriculture & Permaculture offer narrow solutions to the climate crisis

Introduction

Regenerative agriculture and permaculture claim to be the solutions to our ecological crises. While they both borrow practices from Indigenous cultures, critically, they leave out our worldviews and continue the pattern of erasing our history and contributions to the modern world.

While the practices ‘sustainable farming’ promote are important, they do not encompass the deep cultural and relational changes needed to realize our collective healing.

Where is ‘Nature’?

Regen Ag & Permaculture often talk about what’s happening ‘in nature’: “In nature, soil is always covered.” “In nature, there are no monocultures.” Nature is viewed as separate, outside, ideal, perfect. Human beings must practice “biomimicry” (the mimicking of life) because we exist outside of the life of Nature.

Indigenous peoples speak of our role AS Nature. (Actually, Indigenous languages often don’t have a word for Nature, only a name for Earth and our Universe.) As cells and organs of Earth, we strive to fulfill our roles as her caregivers and caretakers. We often describe ourselves as “weavers”, strengthening the bonds between all beings.

Death Doesn’t Mean Dead

Regen Ag & Permaculture often maintain the “dead” worldview of Western culture and science: Rocks, mountains, soil, water, wind, and light all start as “dead”. (E.g., “Let’s bring life back to the soil!” — implying soil, without microbes, is dead.) This worldview believes that life only happens when these elements are brought together in some specific and special way.

Indigenous cultures view the Earth as a communion of beings and not objects: All matter and energy is alive and conscious. Mountains, stones, water, and air are relatives and ancestors. Earth is a living being whose body we are all a part of. Life does not only occur when these elements are brought together; Life always is. No “thing” is ever dead; Life forms and transforms.

From Judgemental to Relational

Regen Ag & Permaculture maintain overly simplistic binaries through subscribing to good and bad. Tilling is bad; not tilling is good. Mulch is good; not mulching is bad. We must do only the ‘good’ things to reach the idealized, 99.9% biomimicked farm/garden, though we will never be as pure or good “as Nature”, because we are separate from her.

Indigenous cultures often share the view that there is no good, bad, or ideal—it is not our role to judge. Our role is to tend, care, and weave to maintain relationships of balance. We give ourselves to the land: Our breath and hands uplift her gardens, binding our life force together. No one is tainted by our touch, and we have the ability to heal as much as any other lifeform.

Our Words Shape Us

Regen Ag & Permaculture use English as their preferred language no matter the geography or culture: You must first learn English to learn from the godFATHERS of this movement. The English language judges and objectifies, including words most Indigenous languages do not: ‘natural, criminal, waste, dead, wild, pure…’ English also utilizes language like “things” and “its” when referring to “non-living, subhuman entities”.

Among Indigenous cultures, every language emerges from and is therefore intricately tied to place. Inuit people have dozens of words for snow and her movement; Polynesian languages have dozens of words for water’s ripples. To know a place, you must speak her language. There is no one-size-fits-all, and no words for non-living or sub-human beings, because all life has equal value.

People are land. Holistic includes History.

Regen Ag and Permaculture claim to be holistic in approach. When regenerating a landscape, ‘everything’ is considered: soil health, water cycles, local ‘wildlife’, income & profit. ‘Everything’, however, tends to EXCLUDE history: Why were Indigenous homelands steal-able and why were our peoples & lands rape-able? Why were our cultures erased? Why does our knowledge need to be validated by ‘Science’? Why are we still excluded from your ‘healing’ of our land? 

Among Indigenous cultures, people belong to land rather than land belonging to people. Healing of land MUST include healing of people and vice versa. Recognizing and processing the emotional traumas held in our bodies as descendants of assaulted, enslaved, and displaced peoples is necessary to the healing of land. Returning our rights to care for, harvest from, and relate to the land that birthed us is part of this recognition.

Composting

Regen Ag & Permaculture often share the environmentalist message that the world is dying and we must “save” it. Humans are toxic, but if we try, we can create a “new Nature” of harmony, though one that is not as harmonious as the “old Nature” that existed before humanity. Towards this mission, we must put Nature first and sacrifice ourselves for “the cause”.

Indigenous cultures often see Earth as going through cycles of continuous transition. We currently find ourselves in a cycle of great decomposition. Like in any process of composting there is discomfort and a knowing that death always brings us into rebirth. Within this great cycle, we all have a role to play. Recognizing and healing all of our own traumas IS healing Earth’s traumas, because we are ONE.

Where to go from here?

Making up only 6.2% of our global population, Indigenous peoples steward 80% of Earth’s biodiversity while managing over 25% of her land. Indigenous worldviews are the bedrocks that our agricultural practices & lifeways arise from. We invite you to ground your daily practices in these ancestral ways, as we jointly work towards collective healing.

  • Learn whose lands you live on (native-land.ca), their history, and how you can support their causes and cultural revitalization.
  • Watch @gatherfilm and Aluna documentary.
  • Amplify the voices and stories of Indigenous peoples and organizations.
  • Follow, support, donate to, and learn from the contributors to this post.
  • Help republish this open-source post: https://bit.ly/IndigenousWorldViews

Contributors

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Advent

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Perhaps people are needing some winter cheer this year more than usual – I’ve noticed lots of Christmas lights switched on early and various festive offerings around the place. In our house we don’t really mark Christmas but I do appreciate some light in the darkness around Solstice and New Year.

If you’d like to get in the Christmas spirit and celebrate Advent on 1st December, come along to the Candlestick Press launch of their Christmas pamphlets – Ten Poems about Angels and Christmas Stories – 7.30 – 9 pm. Most of the poets will be reading their poems from the anthologies plus another with a seasonal theme. You can find out more and book your free ticket here.

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Look forward to seeing you there!

L

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Fluency

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Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue

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STONEPICKER

The Stone Pickers

Sir George Clausen

1887

Oil on canvas

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Stonepicker

After George Clausen

She’s light and wild enough yet to have more in common with meadow flowers.  

Stubborn flickers of white and bruised chicory scissor through the grassy slope 

while her grandmother, drab in sacking, nearer my age now, is stooped, almost

on her knees, apron weighed down with a harvest of scree and muddy limestone.

The girl’s face is tender though she already knows too much: a scarlet cloth 

flares in the tumbled basket and jug.  Thin trees jut against a northern sky –

all I can do is keep on, keep on walking towards them, and pick stones

from the furrowed page to make room for harebell, lady’s smock, three-leaf clover.

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On a recent visit to the Laing Art Gallery I was pleased to spend some time with The Stone Pickers again – touched by a small detail I hadn’t noticed when I wrote my poem: the small stone still caught in the girl’s apron.

The wall text tells us that:

Clausen (1852-1944) was the son of a decorative artist of Danish descent (It doesn’t tell us if this was his mother or his father). From 1867 to 1873, he attended design classes at South Kensington Schools (known today as the Royal College of Art), and subsequently studied in Paris…He was influenced by French plein-air painting – the practice of painting outdoors – and began to paint the rural field workers around his Hertfordshire home in the 1880s. The Stone Pickers was purchased in 1907 from Artists of the Northern Counties, a selling exhibition held annually at the Laing from 1905 until 1935. Clausen was an official artist during the First World War.

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Stonepicker from The Knucklebone Floor (Smokestack 2022).

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In the Classroom of Trees

At the weekend I read poems about trees in the sweet company of Matilda Bevan‘s Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis) at her gorgeous exhibition The Common Language of Green in Healey Church.  On Bonfire Night and around Samhain it felt right to turn our minds and hearts to trees as we enter the dark time of year – and now COP27 just beginning in Egypt, reminding us how intertwined we humans are with all life on the planet.

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If you’d like to spend more time delving into where we find ourselves just now in the biosphere and locate your own place in the mycorrhizal web, there are two events in Newcastle this week you might like to come along to.

On Thursday night (10th November) at 7pm I’ll be reading with Poets of the Climate Crisis at Culture Lab, Newcastle University, alongside Mina Gorji and Togara Muzanenhamo, and in conversation with Jake Polley, as part of this term’s NCLA programme.

It will be a fascinating evening – free to attend and you can find out more and book here.

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Any excuse to return to the Villa Borghese Gardens

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Then on Saturday (12th November) I’m facilitating a day’s workshop (10-4) called The Classroom of Trees (a title I took from Jason Allen-Paisant’s wonderful Thinking with Trees (Carcanet 2021).  

This is the sort of thing we’ll be thinking and writing about:

Why are there so many poems written about trees?  And under trees?  What more is there to say about trees?  What do they teach us about the world and about ourselves?  In this generative workshop we will be ‘thinking with trees’ (Jason Allen-Paisant):  ‘Trying to be part of the forest, to learn their names by breathing.’ 

No specific arboreal knowledge is necessary – simply a willingness to explore the ‘tawny grammar’ (Thoreau) and ‘mother-wit’ (Snyder) of our deep connection with these venerable plants that hold the key for a more culturally-rooted sustainable future.

There are still places available and everyone is very welcome.  I can’t think of a much better way to spend a Saturday in November – in the company of trees and fellow writers open to exploring what deep changes can happen (in our writing and our lives) when we take time for ‘thinking with trees’. Here’s more information and how to book.

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And as a small forward-looking postscript, a cheer of appreciation to Candlestick Press for their new pamphlet of Christmas poems – Christmas Stories (a perfect postable present). When they asked me to contribute, I wasn’t sure what ‘story’ I might be able to tell, but, as often happens, it was trees that showed me the way.

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Arboreal

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My father – a mischievous man with delusions 

of grandeur and Neapolitan charisma,

given to stories – told me his grandparents’ names 

were Mary and Joseph.  Only nine at the time, 

I pencilled them in on our scant family tree

before catching the twinkle in his merry eye.

After that, every Christmas, not knowing 

where I belonged, I’d gaze at the nativity, 

away in the manger – pastoral, beatific –

wanting the holy family’s story to be mine.

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My mother, down to earth, no nonsense, preferred

to blend into the background, almost invisible – 

but at Christmas what made her happy was a tree.

Every year we’d trek deep in the wilderness

beyond the railway line, her swinging the big saw 

as if it were a handbag.  Under cover of dusk, 

Mam at one end and me at the other, we’d carry 

the chosen one home.  Our trees were pine, not bought 

spruce – long-needled, rangy, poached – hung 

with mottled post-war baubles, paper lanterns.

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Short of any other narrative to make sense 

of the world we find ourselves in and to venerate

our lost ancestors – émigrés, survivors – 

I tell my sons these stories in the dark of winter: 

our origin myths, borrowed and stolen, a forest

of rootless, ungovernable evergreen trees.

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Startling: The Movie

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To celebrate the launch of Startling, Kate Sweeney has made one of her wonderful animated mixed-media films in response to some extracts from the book.  It’s available now and you can take a look at it here.

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Kate and I have worked together on a number of projects, including – for Writing the Climate – the collective filmpoem Murmuration.

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If our film of Startling touches you in any way at all, please share it wherever you can.  

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All of us in this time machine are startlings.

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Writers Rebel

From the Writers Rebel Newsletter: 


Dear Friends,
 As the UK government weakens previous protections and threatens to destroy precious habitats, the non-human world needs our very real, human action more than ever. And while words and imagination alone won’t bring threatened species back from the brink, poetry can open the door that leads to action.  From the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf to the work of last month’s winners of the Laurel Prize for environmental poetry, poets have long-held a fascination with animal life, real and fantastical. Exploring human qualities like courage, wisdom and vulnerability through an animal lens, the expressions of the animal in poetry are many – as a kind of field guide or fable, to invoke allegory and warning, to question our shared sentience and subjectivity. Animals can be a source of comfort and solace, horror and humour, ciphers for trauma, as well as our companions and guides.  

This week, the acclaimed poets Pascale PetitSteve ElyLinda France, and Seán Hewitt invite you to imagine the woodland margins of Suffolk without the once-common barn owl, a Cornish meadow without the sight of a stag retreating, the huge yellow eye of the rare stone curlew, and the incredible migration of the critically endangered European eel.  Take a moment to wonder at the beauty and power of these creatures. And to remember that without the animal world and its human allies, the future is bleak indeed.

In the aftermath of the political tumult of the last few weeks, perhaps we could all use some animal therapy. But what will our new cabinet mean for the future of nature and our planet? In an era of impending catastrophe, it seems our MPs are “either asleep at the wheel or in denial”. 

MP Watch puts our MPs’ climate commitments and vested interests under the magnifying glass in order to keep their consituents informed. At a time when truth and political transparency has never been more crucial, please consider donating to their fundraiser.
 

Love and rebellion

Writers Rebel  
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Reasons to Care

Wiki Commons

This evening I heard some young people from the Just Stop Oil coalition speak, powerfully stating their case for civil resistance and direct action to demand that the UK government award no new fossil fuel licences. Our unelected Prime Minister has initiated 100 new oil and gas developments, when just one – Jackdaw, off the coast of Aberdeen – will already create more carbon emissions than the whole of Ghana.

Mothers Rise Up

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The speakers reminded us that a year ago at COP26 the cry was Keep 1.5 alive! And we have now reached 1.3 degrees of global warming. The IPCC has warned that if we reach 2 degrees, which seems highly likely, it will result in 700 million climate refugees, nearly the entire population of Europe.

These young people are willing to be arrested; some have dropped out of University, seeing no future for themselves in following that path, preferring instead to do all they can and whatever it takes to end our reliance on fossil fuels and make a meaningful difference to the climate emergency.

Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery

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Tim Morton spoke in encouragement, evoking the spirit of William Blake (who he called an early maker of memes in his Songs of Innocence and Experience) – ‘the way you say something is what you’re saying’. He saw the Van Gogh soup protest at the National Gallery as ‘weaponised harmlessness’, citing Adorno, who claimed that Proust destroyed the aristocracy with his ‘remorseless gentleness’.

Being a big fan of ‘remorseless gentleness’, I was deeply moved by this intergenerational conversation about climate justice and the failure of democracy. George Monbiot, another member of the ‘Guardian reading, tofu-eating wokerati’ (Braverman), has commented, in the aforementioned publication, on the action, bringing some perspective to the knee-jerk outrage and blame (do read the whole article if you haven’t already – it’s full of good points):

I don’t seek to deny the value of art or the necessity of protecting it. On the contrary: I want the same crucial protections extended to planet Earth, without which there is no art, no culture and no life. Yet while cultural philistinism is abhorred, ecological philistinism is defended with a forcefield of oppressive law.

The soup-throwing and similar outrageous-but-harmless actions generate such fury because they force us not to stop listening, but to start. Why, we can’t help asking ourselves, would young people jeopardise their freedom and their future prospects in this way. The answer, we can’t help hearing, is that they seek to avert a much greater threat to both.

Newcastle University Campus

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Happy National Poetry Day!

This year’s theme is ‘The Environment’ so here’s a poem from my new book Startling.

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Tree of Knowledge

Unseasonable damp heat seeds spores,

a contagious grey pallor curls the tips of leaves 

into fists.  I cut off the mouldy shoots.  We are 

writing this poem together.  Stray trusses stay 

out of reach without tilting a shaky wooden ladder 

against the snaking trunk to clamber into uncertainty.  

A woman, no scholar of gravity, who planted a sapling 

(SaturnTree of Knowledge) bought by post 

from the British Library, I want the poem and its tree 

to last longer, survive.  The fruit’s just starting to set, 

downy thumbs of sweetness, apples-to-be, mildew 

and artless balance willing.  Inside the poem, 

unrunged, inside nature, might we catch sight

of love and know where we live? 

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Before the launch next week at Durham Book Festival, I’ll be hosting a workshop looking at how we might turn our concerns about ‘the environment’ into writing that catches the attention and has the potential to change minds and spur action.

You can find more information here. Look forward to seeing those of you who can make it at Clayport Library on Friday 14th October 4 – 5.30 and later at 7 in Collected bookshop. Lx

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P.S.

The poem is actually in couplets but once again I am confounded by WordPress’s blunt formatting – or my own lack of technical know-how. And so I surrender to digital wabi sabi and bow.

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STARTLING

It’s very strange having a new book come out so soon in the wake of The Knucklebone Floor being in the spotlight – in fact it’s startling! But that is the anachronistic world of publishing, all loops and flashbacks. Time and the way we travel through it is one of the themes of the new book so maybe it’s a case of whatever you look at is looking back at you too.

So, as Writing the Climate is coming to a close, after three rollercoaster years on the stage of the world and its weather, a selection of my writing from that time is published in Startling, a joint venture between New Writing North and Faber. It will be officially launched at Durham Book Festival on Friday 14th October at 7pm in the new Collected bookshop. Tickets include a glass of wine and a copy of the book – but space is limited so if you’d like to come along, you’ll need to book very soon. I’m looking forward to marking the end of the residency in this way and letting Startling loose in the world.

Writing it has been a more documentary process than usual. The nature of the residency and the context of world events – the pandemic and accelerating climate urgency, alongside political and global upheaval – seemed to ask for a quite transparent bearing of witness and an honest recording of my own response, filtered through all the various collective and collaborative activities that the residency made possible. It’s been an immensely rich time, challenging and profound, and I hope I have done justice to it and there’s something in the book that will touch and resonate with readers. I still have notebooks full of research and reflections that I intend to revisit at some point in what will be yet another version of time travel.

Even though Startling interrogates endings and beginnings, charting the cycles of deep time, the writing itself will continue. At this stage I’m not sure where I’ll go next but there are some seeds of ideas that may or may not germinate. Mostly I’m looking forward to more open space and a less functional, more intentional dynamic in my writing process. We’ll see where that leads – and I hope that I can bring some of you along with me as I go – here or elsewhere (more on that later no doubt).

Other ‘endings’ are the final couple of sessions of our Listening to the Climate discussion space. The next one, on Tuesday 11th October 6 – 7.30 pm BST, will be looking at Episode 9: Consciousness. You can listen again here and book a free space here. The final gathering will be on 8th November, when we’ll be discussing the last episode, Regeneration. I really appreciate the way people have been able to share their deepest concerns and their imaginative responses to the podcasts and connect with each other around this subject of such importance for us as individuals and for our world.

The last last is the very last Writing Hour on Tuesday 25th October 1 – 2pm BST. This is where we come together to write in silence, encouraged by each other’s presence and shared focus, following (or not) a couple of prompts dropped in like pebbles in a pool. Again, I’ve been so inspired by people’s willingness to show up and have the courage to face the blank page with the state of the world in mind and track the movements of their imagination and memory, in community and solidarity with others. It’s a low impact, DIY, start-where-you-are kind of process that I hope has helped everyone who’s come along to find and nurture the seeds of their own unfolding time. Here in Autumn, the season that embodies both beginnings and endings, is an excellent spell for marking transitions, letting cause and effect be more congruent and aligned, and setting our compasses in the direction of love and wonder.

As journalist and yogi Mark Morford writes:

‘Stop thinking the global crisis is all there is and realize that for every ongoing war or religious outrage or environmental devastation, there are a thousand counterbalancing acts of staggering generosity and humanity and art and beauty happening all over the world right now on a breathtaking scale, from flower box to cathedral. Resist the temptation to drown in fatalism, to shake your head and sigh and just throw in the karmic towel. Realize this is the perfect moment to envision a reenchantment of the world, to change the energy, to step right up and crank up your personal volume. Right when it all seems dark and bitter and offensive and acrimonious and conflicted and bilious, there is your opening. Remember mystery. And, finally, believe in the seeds you plant. Believe you are part of a groundswell, a resistance, a seemingly small but actually very, very large impending transformation, the beginning of something important and potent and unstoppable.’

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