Learn the Flowers

stay together

learn the flowers

go light

Gary Snyder

From Habit, Ability! at the NewBridge Project in Shieldfield, Newcastle – a neighbourhood I have a soft spot for as my father was born and went to school there.

In the final moments when only the most meaningful strands of life remain,

it’s really our human connections that rise to the top.

That’s the clarity that we get at the end of life.

But it was my parents who taught me from the earliest age

that we don’t have to wait until the end of life

in order to recognize and act on the power of connection.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General under Barack Obama

Thinking just now about patient urgency and/or urgent patience. Yes?

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Hip Hip Hooray!

So, I’ve been riding the waves of the past few weeks in the little ark that is this year’s Laurel Prize. Down to Birmingham for Contains Strong Language and The Verb, where I was able to catch the PoliNations landscape in Victoria Square. Good to see the centre of the city colonised by plants and poetry, rain-catching trees and resting places.

You can listen to this episode of The Verb on catch-up here.

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Then on to Yorkshire Sculpture Park for a day of readings and workshops. One of my favourite places, it was wonderful to be there on a day of sunshine, lighting up Robert Indiana’s powerful sculptures – the world of words and numbers re-imagined in his colourful configurations.

You can watch the prize ceremony, hosted by Simon Armitage, here and listen to us all read poems from the winning collections. Absolutely delighted that The Knucklebone Floor has been honoured in this way that highlights the past year’s poetry books entangling themselves with nature and the land. Chair of the judges, Glyn Maxwell, said:

‘Linda France’s The Knucklebone Floor leaves one with a sense of being guided through an infinite afternoon, green thoughts in green shades. The distant past and the dimly arriving future seem balanced in the hands of the blessèd guide who leads the reader through, a deep feminine spirit here to reclaim what can be reclaimed from the wreck of where we are, here to suggest myriad paths out of the wilderness. A work of deep music and wisdom, an enchanted garden of a book.’

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Everyone’s been so kind and warm in offering their congratulations – I’m very grateful – thank you thank you thank you!

I’ll be reading from it, alongside Helen Mort (whose latest collection, The Illustrated Woman, has been shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize) at the Leper Chapel, Ripon, on Sunday 25th September 7.30pm – the closing event of Ripon Poetry Festival.

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Knucklebone Floor, please visit the Smokestack website or order it from your local bookshop.

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The Knucklebone Floor

Thrilled that The Knucklebone Floor has been shortlisted for this year’s Laurel Prize. You can learn more about the shortlist and details of the Prize here. If you’re in the vicinity of Birmingham or Yorkshire Sculpture Park on 9th or 16th September, do come along and join in the celebrations.

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I dug out a postcard from a few years ago of an earlier version of one of the poems in the collection.

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And looking up recently, I discovered a wasp’s nest in the roof of my little shed’s porch – a small beautiful construction – apparently what taught the Chinese how to make paper. Paper – the magical element that so binds and absorbs us.

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Laurel Prize Longlist

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Delighted that The Knucklebone Floor has made it onto this year’s Laurel Prize longlist. Many thanks to the judges and congratulations to my fellow poets. Some I’ve read and admired already but so many collections here I want to read…

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Here’s a review of The Knucklebone Floor on the London Grip site. If you’d like to write one of your own and have somewhere to send it, please contact me via my website.

Thank you.

LF

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The Mosaic of Culture

The whole earth is a great tablet holding the multiple overlaid new and ancient traces of the swirl of forces. Each place is its own place, forever (eventually) wild.  A place on earth is a mosaic within larger mosaics – the land is all small places, all precise tiny realms replicating  larger and smaller patterns.

Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

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Culture is a mosaic too.  The root of the word ‘culture’ comes from the Latin ‘to till, to worship’, the way we all come together to cultivate the ground of our shared being – we give it our attention as citizens, we want to improve it, refine it, according to our shared values.  Like the farmer, who at the same time must work the land as if they’ll live forever and die tomorrow.

Facing the climate crisis, which is an existential one, a crisis of consciousness, imagination, we have to learn to accept the same paradox – how to live well, not knowing if we’re sitting at the bedside of a dying planet or serving as midwives for the birth of a new cycle of evolution, an unprecedented iteration of human possibility. 

And experiencing this, cultivation has to happen on a personal level too, within our own individual mosaic – always starting where we are and cultivating enough kindly self-awareness to know the difference between a reactive fight, flight or freeze response and a creative one, open to possibility, regeneration and transformation.  This has to be the more hopeful and helpful path to take – so that we can try to be the person in the room who makes being in that room better, not worse – less divisive, more diverse, honest and practically supportive.

Culture is the place where the individual and the collective meet and nature and ecology are not separate from that because it is who we are … and we know it creates a sense of community – where we can find strength and encouragement and the potential for deeper understanding and well-being, so we can make better choices together towards a sustainable present and future.

When we look at the climate and ecological crisis, we are looking at the past, the present and the future and how they all affect each other:  this is the nature of Time, of the physics of cause and effect.  When we know that, really know that, in our own bodies and bones, we see that every choice we make affects what will happen to our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren and will not hesitate to stand in the way of any harm.  As a representative of the older generation, this is my perspective – we are all mosaics within larger mosaics and, however overwhelming that may be, that’s the only place we can act from, as kin, within the enormous, tangled family of things.

On the edge of many precipices we are living in prophetic times, where the gifts of the ancestors are revealing possibilities for pathways forwards.  But the path forward can only be traversed after reckoning with the past.

Melissa Nelson, Decolonising Conquest Consciousness

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WE CAN DO THIS

The one other thing I think has been really important for me is about hope. First of all, yes, these are very dangerous times. The problem is big and urgent and things could go really badly. But the future isn’t written yet. The IPCC report recommends that the planet’s usage of fossil fuels peak by 2025, and that usage is cut in half by 2030 with the goal of reaching net zero by 2050. WE CAN DO THIS. Not that it will be easy, but it is possible. We need to fight to get there. And the biggest thing we are up against is our own despair. And one of the biggest tools our opposition has is to trigger our hopelessness. In a world with so much trauma and harm, most of us have early experiences that left us feeling alone or terrified or unloved or that we shouldn’t get our hopes up. The climate crisis feels huge and can leave us each feeling overwhelmed when we look straight at it. So many choose to self-distract. But the key is not to avoid looking, the key is to look together. And in order to really face this crisis and win, it often means having to separate the leftover feelings from our childhood defeats.
 
For me, it’s hard to face the reality of the climate crisis. But it’s unbearable to look at it through the lens of my early childhood trauma. When I feel overwhelmed by what’s happening in the present, I call someone to talk about it, but I also spend time looking at what it is from my early life that it reminds me of. It’s important not to live in the recording of being a small child when other, more powerful people were in charge. I am a grown woman with a lot of personal power. And when people get together, we have infinite collective power. 

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The inspirational writer and editor Aya de León – you can read more of her interview with Amy Brady of Burning Worlds (Climate Change in Art and Literature) here.

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Yours sincerely

It’s now or never.  According to the latest IPCC report, to keep global temperature rise under 1.5C means that carbon emissions from everything that we do, buy, use or eat must peak by 2025, and fall rapidly after that, reaching net-zero by the middle of this century.  The total amount of CO2 that the world has emitted in the last decade is the same amount that’s left to us now to stay under this key threshold.

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In this third and final collective project of my Writing the Climate residency, we are inviting you to write (and send) a letter about your take on the accelerating climate and ecological crisis.  As writers, our superpower is a way with words, and words are energy – they make a difference to the world we live in.  Here is a chance to harness your creativity and skill to lift the way we use our energy, to express your feelings and ideas on this crucial subject, affecting all our lives now and looming over our children’s future.

It’s up to you who you choose to write to – your MP, the PM [ I wrote this before the latest developments!…L ], the Dalai Lama or the Pope, the CEO of Exxon, BP or Shell, a wildfire fighter in Australia or a reindeer herder in the Arctic, your best friend, your descendants or your ancestors.  When you write, you hold the whole world in your hands.

Hands typing on retro typewriter

Send it in whatever format you like – via email, postcard or letter – whatever might help trigger a small change in how you feel about climate change and mass extinction, as you articulate what really matters and clear a space for active orientation and engagement.

This will inevitably make a difference to your letter’s recipient too and, alongside all our participants’ letters, will contribute to the momentum for change and deep shift in our collective awareness and imagination that we need.

As well as sending your letter out into the world, please send a copy to us and we’ll gather them together to be shared more widely. I will choose a selection to form part of an installation at this year’s Durham Book Festival in October, and they will also appear on a special Writing the Climate webpage.

Find words for the inexpressible, what’s on your mind, in your heart, on the tip of your tongue, and shout them to the rooftops or whisper them in a loved one’s ear.  Share your voice not just with one other person but with the whole trembling, fragile world… If not now, when?

Please limit your letter to maximum A4 page length in whatever form and font you like – prose, poetry, cartoon, storyboard.  You can hand-write it and scan it in, or send us a physical copy or a photograph. You could write it on a postcard or type it up on your computer (or even share it on social media: tag us @newwritingnorth and use the hashtag #TheClimateLetters). Whatever your letter looks like, just make sure it reaches us by Monday 22nd August.

To send us your letter online, fill in this form.

Or send it by post to:

3 Ellison Terrace, Ellison Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST (by post).

If you have any questions, please email kathryntann@newwritingnorth.com.

We look forward to reading your letters and setting the power of your words to work in the world.

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Elder Mother

From mother to mother, this is the bargain:

Old Woman, Old Woman,

            Give me your wood

And when I am dead

                        I will give you mine.

                                    Steep black berries in whiskey,

                                    kindle elderfire, stay warm all winter.

            Indoors, a stick tucked in your kist,

            keeps your clothes sweet and the devil away.

If you cut it, friend to witches, it will bleed –

ask before you steal berry, bloom or branch:

Old Woman, Old Woman,

            Give me your wood

And when I am dead

                        I will give you mine.

                        The healingest tree that on earth do grow,

                                    the whole plant hath a narcotic smell. 

            It is not well to sleep under its shade –

you may never wake up again.

                                                Playground for fairies – one, the faun

                        Phynodderree, will bring good luck, 

                                    lend a hand in the garden, protect 

your house against lightning.  

Spin it thrice, this is the bargain:

Old Woman, Old Woman,

            Give me your wood

And when I am dead

                        I will give you mine.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Climate

What we talk about when we talk about climate is pretty much Everything.  Which is what makes it so hard to talk about – and in particular to write about.  But rather than deter us, we could let that encourage us to be curious and inspire us to be creative, allowing our imaginations to wander, on and off the page.  

That’s what naturally happens, if you’re lucky, when you’re able to start writing freely and follow the thread of your intuitions.  In my experience it seems to require you to be as present as possible, rooted in your own body and its sensations and suggestions.  ‘Thinking about climate’ is just that – thinking, with the tendency to spin around in ever-widening circles of doom, catapulting you further and further away from where you are.  Come back…Don’t get lost!

Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.

Arthur Ashe

Last week the excellent Ginkgo Prize for Ecopoetry published this year’s anthology and I’m happy to have a couple included.  One of them – ‘Stone Curlew’ – speaks to that impulse to lose touch with yourself and loop off anywhere but here.

Stone Curlew

I watch the way you want to reach the end

before you’ve begun. Here there is only this

egg and our sitting in shifts to keep it warm,
at the mercy of weather, another bird’s hunger.

Trust me, you must go to unknown places
and stay inside your body while you try. Look at me

being bird. Why is being human so hard?
I see you – fragile and fierce. What if every single day

were your only chance of incubating what wants
to be born and that was all you had to do – be there 

what you were made for, enough to make a stone sing? 

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You can read all the wonderful Gingko poems here.

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Having some sort of focus or structure is helpful as we face up to the challenges of living with climate collapse, ecological extinctions and an uncertain future so I very much welcome a new essay that’s starting to circulate, written by two medical ethicists calling for a new system of bioethics, taking the planet and all its species into account, and proposing six ‘Ethical Maxims for a Marginally Inhabitable Planet’.

According to Pierre Hadot (1995), who they quote:

when the time comes, they [maxims] can help us accept such [catastrophic] events, which are, after all, part of the course of nature; we will thus have these maxims and sentences ‘at hand’. What we need are persuasive formulae . . . which we can repeat to ourselves in difficult circumstances, so as to check movements of fear, anger, or sadness. The exercise of meditation [on maxims] is an attempt to control inner discourse, in an effort to render it coherent.

Aren’t poems a little like maxims, ‘persuasive formulae’, distilled experience, concentrated insight into what it is to be human that someone might carry around to help them see in the dark?

In essence, David Schenck and Larry Churchill’s Six Maxims are:

1. Work hard to grasp the immensity of the situation.

2. Cultivate radical hope.

3. Have a line in the sand.

4. Appreciate the astonishing opportunity of life at this time.

5. Train your body and mind.

6. Act for the future generations of all species.

This is important and immensely useful guidance, chiming beautifully with Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects and Chris Johnstone’s Active Hope Training. I’d definitely recommend you read the whole article here. If you find it at all helpful, please pass it around among your family, friends and colleagues.

As the authors say, from their long-time experience working in hospitals with patients in extremis, responding to unexpected transitions is a difficult ongoing process, involving the emotions and the body, as well as the mind – all of our selves that the climate and ecological emergencies (i.e. everything right now) is asking us to bring.  And the great thing is we don’t need to do it alone – we’re all in this together and can help each other simply by admitting how we feel, sharing our fears as well as our dreams, and listening – really listening – to each other.  That’s where radical hope lives – uncomfortable, urgent and open to action.

Which brings us back to the fundamental questions addressed by the maxims: what kind of person will you be, and what will you teach and model for your colleagues, your students, your families?

We ourselves find this list of maxims daunting. But this is how maxims work. Maxims have to do with how we do everything we do – a tone and style of living – as well as with the implementation of certain practices. Maxims are, in significant part, about keeping morality itself alive in a catastrophe. They demand of us that which we have difficulty demanding from ourselves.

Schenck & Churchill

What else to do but be there – like a bird on an egg

and start where you are.  

Begin now.  

And keep beginning over and over again.

Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.

D.H. Lawrence

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Midsummer Phantoms

I don’t write prose very often and I read it in public even less but the coming Summer Solstice will see me joining Sean O’Brien and Gail-Nina Anderson for one of their legendary Ghost Story gatherings at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil. I’ll be reading a story I wrote some time ago called Cloud Island. The ghosts in it are all lurking between the lines, although everything is so frightening these days, it’s hard to know where true horror lies. Even the fact that here we are already, almost half way through the year, feels like some macabre trick.

I’m looking forward to this unusual Solstice gathering and hearing Sean and Gail-Nina’s stories – and to seeing those of you who can make it along to what I’m sure will be a skin-tingling evening. Click on the link below to book.

Tuesday 21st June 7pm

Midsummer Phantoms at the Phil | Sean O’Brien, Gail-Nina Anderson & Linda France

Live | £5/3

Join Gail-Nina Anderson, Sean O’Brien and Linda France as they bring a ghostly chill to Midsummer’s Eve. Savour three new ghost stories before the nights start drawing in…..

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