Tag Archives: community

WRITING AS AN ECOLOGICAL ATTITUDE

Some thoughts arising from past Climate Writing workshops and thinking about more on the horizon… You can apply for a free mini-course ‘How to Start Writing about Climate’ here.  There’s also a Creative Saturday at NCLA on ‘Writing Like Weather’ here.  And a chance to come together and write in ‘The Writing Hour’ here.

Writing about Climate, keeping ecological balance in mind, alongside others is a way of bringing our relationship with the powerful time we are living through into greater awareness.  It helps to articulate half-buried thoughts and feelings and propel us into further research that will deepen our knowledge, which we can then share or use in more politically active ways to move towards establishing more sustainable and equitable systems.  The accumulated effect on us is wholesome and energising – on the side of life and active strong-rooted hope.

It sounds a bit like an advertising slogan but if writing is good for you, it can be good for the planet too.  

…staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.

                                                                                                            Donna Haraway

If we don’t act until we feel the crisis that we rather curiously call ‘environmental’ – as if the destruction of our planet were merely a context – everyone will be committed to solving a problem that can no longer be solved.

                                                                                                                     Jonathan Safran Foer

The process and techniques of writing poetry in particular help cultivate qualities that keep us in balance, moving forward in a positive direction.  I came up with this figuring of causes and effects (– formatting a bit wayward, but hopefully you’ll be able to get the gist).  You might be able to think of more things you’d include – and I’d be delighted to hear about them.  It’s all work in progress.

THE POETICS OF PRESENCE & RESILIENCE

Writing as an Ecological Attitude

Taking space to write, cultivating                           A sense of commitment,

a practice, honouring the process          . . .           discipline & self-care

Grammar & syntax, inherent logic          . . .          Clarity, communication skills

Economy & focus                                    . . .           Simplicity

Truth-telling, managing register              . . .           Authenticity, a common humanity

& tone                                                                       

Taking reader into account                     . . .          Connectedness, empathy, solidarity

Having something to say, breaking           . . .            Courage, speaking out

silences

Making choices about place/character/      . . .           Gaining perspective, looking beyond 

details/flora/fauna etc – based on close                    yourself, orientation

observation                                   

Playing with language & sound – rhyme     . . .         Delight, pleasure, staying fresh, positive,

rhythm, voice, tense, lexicon etc                             awake

One obvious thing writing poetry does is to make you stop.  Stopping is a radical act.  Even in lockdown, we are all trying to do too much, overstimulating our bodies and minds at a time when there is so much to process.  Done in a calm way, with no goal in mind, writing can touch you in similar ways to meditation, offering a space for in-the-moment, judgement-free presence and enquiry.  Yes, we need action on Climate, but action arising from clear thinking and a careful consideration of the consequences. 

I may have posted this quote from Cistercian monk Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968) before – but every year/month/week/day it seems to become more and more relevant:

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. 

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. 

The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

                                                                                                                        Thomas Merton

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Murmuration

 

One of the projects I’ve initiated as part of my Climate Writer Residency with New Writing North and Newcastle University has just launched online.  I’m hoping that Murmuration will bring people together in a far-reaching creative collaboration.  The poem that arises from it will serve as a collective inventory of what really matters, celebrating our love for the natural world at a time of Climate Crisis and Coronavirus.

 

 

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The concept is inspired by murmurations, those astonishing displays of aerial acrobatics we see in the air in autumn and winter, when great flocks of starlings gather. Flying together, but never colliding, starlings know there is safety in numbers.  In a murmuration the birds are protected from predators and cooling temperatures, while they share news and information and enjoy each other’s company, arcing, folding and singing together.

In the human realm, creative climate action requires both an individual and a collective response and the starlings’ murmuration offers a symbol of what can be achieved through community, collaboration and co-operation.

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The first thing people ask when I tell them about my post as Climate Writer is ‘What can I do?’  The words we use, think with and live by, are vitally important for sharing information and telling new stories of creative resilience, developing alternative ways of living together at a time of crisis.  We’ve already seen this happening since the restrictions imposed as a consequence of the global pandemic.  There are many new demands for our attention online and unanticipated distractions from the continuing crisis around climate and related imbalances.

With this project we might learn from the starlings, raise our wings and our voices in a powerful accumulating murmur, remembering to stay in touch with what we love about this miraculous world where we live.  It is a chance to share our observations, feelings, dreams and wishes. Together, we can make something spectacular, far greater than the sum of its parts, an ensemble work of art.

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You can contribute to the poem by writing between one and three lines of any length celebrating the natural world, beginning with either the phrase ‘Because I love…’ or ‘What if…’. I will distil and curate all the thoughts and impressions sent in into a single long poem, expressing the collective imagination of all the people who have contributed. Artist Kate Sweeney, who created the wonderful animation on our invitation trailer, will bring the lines to life, making an animated filmpoem, which will reflect our connection with this earth, the natural world and each other at this extraordinary moment in time.

You can read more details and instructions for how to contribute here.

Encouraging comments from Sinéad Morrissey at Newcastle University: “The really exciting thing about this project is that it’s all about the audience – a reaching out to anyone who would like to take part. An ironic consequence of the COVID-19 crisis is that, even in physical isolation, we can now connect with so many people digitally, without the limitations of time or distance. In other words, a whole new kind of conversation can take place. Be part of it. The launch of Murmuration will form part of Inside Writing: a digital poetry festival running through May, June and July, hosted by NCLA and featuring some of today’s most exciting poets responding directly to COVID-19.”

And Anna Disley at New Writing North: “At this stressful and uncertain time, one of the positive things that many people have reported is a new appreciation of the natural world; we are looking more closely at what is on our doorstep, noticing more.  This initiative aims to capture that appreciation, to use our collective voice to ensure our natural world is cherished and protected. Added to that, we hope it’s also an impetus not to revert to pre-lockdown climate damaging practices.”

Please think about writing your own ‘Because I love …’ or ‘What if…’ lines and send them in to the New Writing North website or using #writeoutside on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram by 1 August 2020.

Many thanks.  I’ll look forward to reading, flocking, flying.

 

 

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May Day Gathering

 

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The festival of Beltane marked the time when cattle were moved from winter shelter to summer pastures and the community came together in rituals of protection and blessing.  Over May Day weekend a group of us celebrated by writing renga verses in our own spaces.  I gathered a selection of the verses together to make this special Beltane Renga.  It captures a sense of this uncertain time – with thoughts from Derbyshire to Glasgow, city and countryside – and creates a space to look in and look out.  A monument for remembrance, as well as blessing and protection.

 

On Beltane Street

 

May’s not out yet

so we fill the house

with honesty, forget-me-nots

 

watering the compost

waiting for the bean shoots

 

drawn in windows

chalked on pavements

rainbows for our better angels

 

the curlew’s call follows its flight

sky mapped in sound

 

thought she was away with the fairies

Grandma May

but now I also chat to them

 

stilled streets

where wild creatures roam

 

after the rain

trees groan and stretch

their greening fingers

 

a circle not a line

this deadlinelessness

 

rinse until clear

gently reshape

allow to dry naturally

 

she hits the bottle

it hits her back

 

I miss waves

long to float

to be held by sea

 

wasp sawing last year’s lovage

harvesting timber

 

her children are suspicious

of the new smells

bleach, soap, fear

 

smoke has no discernible edge

it’s all shadow

                                   

let the fern unfurl your grieving 

let the heron still your breathing 

let the selkie swim you deeper 

 

raising glasses on Zoom

all our wrinkles show

 

over-heated plate

(earth-coloured)

broken into two half moons

 

under the blaze of gorse, wild pansies

purple petals, yellow hearts

 

days like this

begin and end

in fullness

 

we walk paths from here

to who knows where

 

 

 

 

 

*

two robins a branch apart

no need for song

proximity language enough

 

it is my heart I hear

growling with longing

 

we walk around an island

built from the acts

of our own containment

 

five hares in a line – lope

leap – whoooa and they’re gone

 

pink side down

magnolia petals

dangle and twist

 

every day now

like three in the afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

*

I drive my herd out

[locked down]

between two fires

 

marsh marigolds crowd the ditch

cups of gaudy gold

 

she holds up her Thursday pan

to the evening sky

flash and clang and shimmer

 

mouse-chewed chocolate

a Post Office apology

 

wands of ash

Venus of the Woods

protect us

 

reflected light ripples

dissolves a branch, a leaping fish

 

fresh mown lawn

lungfuls

of torn chlorophyll

 

ants crawl over the garlic

put down to repel them

 

aching for the day

when this

is a memory

 

rosemary in the blue pot

rubbed between thumb and forefinger

 

at the nature reserve

a police notice asks

Why are you here?

 

down the desire path

through the puzzled wood

 

if you knew Time as well as I do

said the Hatter

you wouldn’t talk about wasting it

 

early morning quiet

kisses the ancient spinney

 

in the gloaming

they raise a glass

tie Beltane ribbons

 

            whir whir wit whir woo

the pigeon insists

 

striking a match

in the darkness of stars

flickering in cupped palms

 

tomorrow’s home-ed

making dandelion honey

 

this Year of the Great Reckoning

unpunctuated by the dash

of vapour trails.

 

 

 

A Distance/Presence Renga

over Beltane weekend

1st – 3rd May 2020

 

 

Participants:

Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Adrian Brewster

Larry Butler

Holly Clay

John Cobb

Martin Eccles

Linda France

Lilly Fylypczyk

Susan Gibb

Malcolm Green

Jackie Hardy

Sharon Higginson

Geoff Jackson

Virginia Kennedy

Liz Kirsopp

Bernadette McAloon

Karen Melvin

Lesley Mountain

Ellen Phethean

Ruth Quinn

Ratnadevi

Alex Reed

Linda Thake

Maria Venditozzi

Mandy Wilkinson

 

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The Scale of Change

On Saturday I visited Transition Tynedale’s Community Garden (in the grounds of Hexham Middle School) for the first time.  Despite the freezing temperatures and snow on the hills, a few sturdy souls had turned out for their regular twice-monthly garden session.

Garlic and onions were planted, fruit bushes pruned and leaves cleared.  Matty was even able to take her supper home with her.

My contribution was mostly admiration.  I particularly appreciated the ancient cherry tree and the grass sofas and willow den.  And the super-organised shed…

Really it’s the ‘wrong’ time of year to be immersed in a poetry project all about growing food.  In our workshop sessions in the Library on Monday tea-times we’ve tended to concentrate on the eating side of things.  which, along with reading gardening books, is what’s meant to happen in winter surely?

But, fair weather gardener that I am, after Saturday, I was shamed into doing a bit of tidying of my own patch – currently an uneasy limbo of snow and geraniums.  In the Community Garden too there were a few spots of colour and I found myself drawn to them like a starving bee.

Professor Stephen Blackmore (the Queen’s Botanist in Scotland) says that gardening can save the planet.  If everyone looks after their own bit of green, be it a garden or a hanging basket, the cumulative effect will make a difference.

‘…so much of the state of our planet hinges on the state of our plants and vegetation.  Often we are overwhelmed by the scale of change to the planet, and we think ‘What can we do to change anything?’, but your little patch of garden is part of the processes of nature, supporting wildlife and replenishing the atmosphere.’

 

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