A new year is a good time for change, moving on, isn’t it? So, the plan is I won’t be adding any new posts here. I’m heading across to Substack for a brand new iteration of this blog/notebook/newsletter. It’s a foreign country and I don’t quite speak the language yet. It’s going to take me a while to get used to it but you can subscribe here to read my first trial post. It’s free and everyone is welcome.

Thank you to everybody who’s followed me so faithfully and in such numbers over the past decade or so. I hope some of you might skip over to Substack if you want to stay in touch with what I’m doing. Still committed to working with poetry and ecology, I have lots of interesting new developments in mind and – looking forward to a fresh start.

Go well.



Tagged , , , , ,

Happy New Year


lit from above by rain

lit from under by love

– the new year



If you’d like a copy of my new pamphlet Letters to Katlia, it’s now available from the British Library’s site here.

This feels like a bridge for me from one year into the next, while I try to discover what wants to unfold after my Writing the Climate residency – you can read New Writing North’s ‘3.5 per cent’ blog post on our work over the past three years here.

January, February, March are good months for hibernation and dreaming. May we all rest well and emerge renewed.


Wishing you an expansive and fulfilling 2023

safe from harm



Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Halcyon Days

The seven days preceding, and the seven days following the shortest day, or the winter solstice, were called by the ancients the Halcyon Days. This phrase, so familiar as expressive of a period of tranquillity and happiness, is derived from a fable, that during the period just indicated, while the halcyon bird or kingfisher was breeding, the sea was always calm and might be navigated in perfect security by the mariner. The name halcyon is derived from two Greek words (meaning ‘the sea’ and ‘to conceive’) and, according to the poetic fiction, the bird was represented as hatching her eggs on a floating nest, in the midst of the waters.

Chambers Book of Days (1864)


May we all enjoy some halcyon days over the holidays –

tranquillity and happiness

Go well




Photo: Pond at Logan Botanic Garden

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Longest Shadow

At Winter Solstice your shadow will be the tallest it’ll be all year. I’ve been thinking about the language we use to communicate with others about ecological awareness for over three years now and I’m still puzzling it out. It’s arisen in a particular way for me currently as I’m participating in an Active Hope Facilitators Training course, using the spiral of Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects. A small group of us from all over Europe are learning new and old ways of reconnecting with ourselves, the planet and each other – it’s powerful, moving work, full of light and shadow.

The spiral is a symbol of a process that is expressed in interconnecting stages – starting with Coming from Gratitude, Honouring Our Pain for the World, Seeing Anew with Ancient Eyes and Going Forth. When I begin trying to explain this in conversations with friends and colleagues, I’ve noticed people’s eyes glaze over – an invisible barrier descends between us. The language, intended to clarify and engage, like any jargon, separates and alienates. I feel the same when academics use endless acronyms.  For them, they represent familiar structures and belonging but I can’t help feeling excluded from these enclosed, insider-only spaces.  Language is deeply implicated in elitism and accessibility – it can either open, invite and connect or withhold, confuse or keep at a distance. 

The interplay of these different possibilities is something you (I) work with semi-consciously when you’re (I’m) writing. A guiding principle for me always used to be: would my mother, who left school at 15 and didn’t read a great deal, be able to enter the world of this poem and have a real sense of it? This has shifted for me lately – my mother died in 1994 and I’m aware the world we live in now would make no sense to her at all so having her as my touchstone no longer feels valid.  It was useful for a time, helping me honour my working-class origins and deep commitment to equality and inclusion. But now I’m not sure what my litmus test might be – maybe the Buddhist guidelines on skilful speech: is it true? is it kind? is it helpful? is it necessary? is it the right time? 

As a way of testing my understanding and relationship to language, I usually have to translate anything I don’t immediately connect with into my own words, paraphrasing and exploring them from the inside out until ‘the right words in the right order’ for an adequate translation present themselves. It takes a lot of time and effort but it seems to be the way I locate myself in the world and find my own sense of belonging. I can track the same process occurring, perhaps not even consciously, in the writing of others for publication, and more casually in correspondence – figuring out what we want or need to say as we work our way through the words and their shadows. All language is shorthand, a signal of an unfolding process – although it gives the illusion of being fixed once on the page or the screen, a possibly illusory instance of certainty.

I recently went to see the marvellous Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery, where all these thoughts and conundrums are represented spectacularly – in the logos of the illuminated gospels, literally illuminated in a dark space at the end of a winding pilgrimage through books, words and stones. Then you enter the section on art and spirituality, full of light – non-verbal and numinous. What words are there are puzzles, fragmented, revealing their power, evidence of absence.

I heard poet Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell, shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize for Poetry, talking on the radio about poetry as ‘a spiritual technology’ and how he used the image of the bell as a symbol both of the sound and the silence that surrounds it.  He called silence ‘an architectural element that allows us to see the subject by what it isn’t’, declaring a poem is a compass pointing you towards whatever action you might need to take, rather than suggesting any certainty or closure.

The Pain of Others (No.2)

Idris Khan, 2017

An Active Hope Circle friend suggested we could change the stages of Coming from Gratitude, Honouring our Pain for the World, Seeing Anew with Ancient Eyes and Going Forth to Appreciation, Challenge, Perspective and Action. I can see the merits of his translations in creating more open access to the concepts and experiences, however they perhaps still fall short. These are abstract nouns and rather vague – so risk being interpreted in many different ways, losing their essential elements.  (And I never heard my mother use any one of those words.) As signs though, they’re fine – the beginning of a conversation that might open something in the imagination.

For example, you might inquire what ‘appreciation’ means for you.  What does it look like?  If it were a sound, what would you hear?  And in the silence after it?  And so on, using all your senses to help you understand ‘appreciation’ as something that you can feel in your own body.  Again, all this takes up a lot of time but learning, unlearning and re-learning is a profound and lifelong process, a better use of our time than many things we might lose ourselves giving our attention to.  How quickly even a quarter of a hour passes looking things up online or checking Instagram…

Another collision with the subject of Time – the theme that runs through everything I read, hear and reflect upon around ecological awareness and our current dilemma. It is encapsulated in our use of language: when do the words come?  Before what we experienced?  Or after?  During?  Or alongside?  The unfolding of being in the world is a messy patchwork, a loose weave of many colours and strands of a vast fabric we’re creating together, unravelling and mending as we go, earthing and unearthing. We are creating structures and spaces we need to trust but must also know them for what they are – not safety blankets or refuges. The only place we can truly trust is our presence in each moment, the connection between each other and our openness and curiosity for simply being here together at this time. Mary Oliver speaks of a faith in what she calls ‘eternity’, which is perhaps simply the other side of ‘the present moment’ – the light or the shadow side depending on where you stand.

In the face of our accelerating polycrisis, Active Hope – in its latest iteration as a new edition of the book and an unfolding network of practitioners – has moved away from an expectation of outcome towards an emphasis on process. This again honours time, recognising how much we need to create space for assimilating and metabolising all the impacts of living in this stressful period in human history. It also points towards the acceptance of our whole lives as a process – one which we have a responsibility to meet in the moment while letting the absorption and transformation take care of themselves, as we go on making haste slowly.

And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listening
is the real work.

Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem. 

Mary Oliver

Tagged , , , , , ,

Winter Celebrations

I’m delighted to have been named Environmental Poet of the Year 2022-23 in this year’s Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets.  They will be publishing Letters to Katłįà, which grew out of an exchange suggested by Katłįa Lafferty, a Yellowknives Dene First Nation author and journalist, who was climate writer-in-residence at West Vancouver Memorial Library in British Columbia in 2022.  

Katłįa reached out to me when she discovered that I was a climate writer in residence too – the first in the world she told me! We wrote to each other (in verse, at her suggestion…) over the four months of her residency and this is my half of the correspondence.


I’m looking forward to the Awards Evening at the British Library on Friday 9th December – my first visit to London in nearly three years! The event is open to the public, free and hybrid so you can attend in person or watch online. You can find booking details here.

Many congratulations to all the shortlisted poets and presses! 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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.


A message from 10+ Indigenous leaders and organizations

Regenerative Agriculture & Permaculture offer narrow solutions to the climate crisis


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.


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 (, 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:


Tagged , , , , , , , ,



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.


Look forward to seeing you there!



Tagged , , , , , , , ,




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

— John O’Donohue

Tagged , , , , ,


The Stone Pickers

Sir George Clausen


Oil on canvas



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.



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.


Stonepicker from The Knucklebone Floor (Smokestack 2022).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


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.


Any excuse to return to the Villa Borghese Gardens


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.



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.





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.


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.


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.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,