Tag Archives: sustainability

First Song / Last Call

Posting a few things here related to our Writing the Climate Dawn Chorus collective sound poem project as the closing date for submission’s creeping up. You have until 2nd August to send in your 30 seconds of poetry, thoughts, dreams and songs for the finished soundscape that will air as part of this year’s Durham Book Festival.

It would be wonderful to hear from as many people as possible – imagining what words you’d want to land at the beginning of a new day or even a new world. Every day we get a chance to start again. What would it feel like if we brought that freshness and creativity to how we’re approaching the climate crisis? Every day realigning ourselves with a vision of a fair sustainable future and renewing our efforts to make it possible, in our individual lives and within our local and global communities.

I hope that our Dawn Chorus will catch a sense of wonder and appreciation and remind us of what’s at stake if we ignore carbon emissions continuing to rise and the all too evident dangers of escalating temperatures across the globe. Last week in the UK the Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning. This is a tipping point. so our Dawn Chorus is also an alarm call – a cry for protection and an unshakeable commitment to mitigation. Singing ourselves awake includes the whole spectrum of feelings and responses. Everyone’s voice is welcome – all languages and accents.

You can find details of how to enter here


An essay of mine that touches on the idea of the Dawn Chorus and poetry more generally is now available online as part of David O’Hanlon-Alexandra’s wonderful NCLA project New Defences of Poetry. Do have a read – the whole site is full of delights and provocations.

Another place for delight is a new book edited by Mike Collier, Bennett Hogg and John Strachan – Songs of Place and Time, Birdsong and the Dawn Chorus in Natural History and the Arts. It’s ‘a celebration of what it is to be alive and share our much more-than-human world with birds in their sheer exuberance of life at the dawn of day’.

This from the introduction:

Most of us accept that the climate emergency threatens the survival of our planet. One of the things we can do to raise awareness of this existential threat is to rekindle our imagination about what we have and what we stand to lose. we have the ability to imagine, and to develop a new narrative; it’s what we’re good at; good at imagining; good at telling stories. It’s our strength as creative people; and this is one way we may also discover our power to act.

The creative people in Songs of Place and Time include artists, writers, poets, academics, sound recordists, musicians and photographers. I’m very happy to be among their company. The assembled chorus of voices sings sweetly and gives rise to a sense of practical hope.

…an onomatopoeia of feathered things

that Emily Dickinson, dressed all in white,

heard as ‘Hope’, vowel and plosive, a gesture,

a giving of lips and throat –

how we learned

to talk after all, by imitating

these birds, borrowing their beauty, bringing

our very selves to light. And so we hear the compass

of our own hearts – tinsel and workshop, too many

messes to count; according to Emily, find ecstasy

in life, the mere sense of living joy enough –

turning it up, turning it up, us all, ratchet and caw.

(from Dawn Chorus, written for Compass, installation with sound artist Chris Watson at Cheeseburn, 2015)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.’


Tagged , , , , , , ,

Garden City/City Garden

from this

From this…

…to this


Coming from a large field in a small country in the middle of winter to an island on the Equator the contrast was about as strong as it could be and it took me several days to recover from the long and stressful journey.  When I emerged ready to take Singapore on its own terms I discovered that involved penetrating the paradox of City Garden or Garden City.  There is a big PR push there to create the mythos of ‘Our City in a Garden’ (where the word ‘our’ is probably as important as the other two nouns, a gesture towards integrating the ethnic diversity of Singapore’s population: making me wonder how much of that is wishful thinking too).


My interpretation of paradox implies balance and union, a sort of yin and yang dynamic.  Here there was more of a sense of ‘disconnect’ – an ungainly word, but one that seems fitting here – suggesting something fragmented and random and echoing the strange syntax and coinings of ‘Singlish’.

In Singapore it would seem clear that City comes before Garden.  There is so much evidence of man’s influence – the architecture an expression of power, dominion.  The sheer scale of it – in conception and execution – high rises and set pieces – made me doubt the constantly reiterated ‘eco’ line.  It felt more as if sustainable measures were just an add-on rather than an integral part of what is obviously a very efficient infrastructure.  The differences between natural and man-made seemed too great, out of balance.  How much solar energy, tree-planting and biomass fuel would it take to keep the lights of Singapore, a 24 hour city, switched on?


For me City and Garden were two distinct worlds that occasionally overlapped or collided – one superimposed on another, like an old-fashioned double exposure.  There was something old-fashioned about the place despite the glass towers and shiny lights – as if Singapore was tangled up in its dream of economic growth, still in the thrall of capitalism’s hollow promises.  Many of the public information boards, advertising and media were very childlike in tone and design, only adding to the effect of innocence.  There was something very charming about this but it also felt ungrounded and unsustainable.  I’m not sure how the ‘public consultation’ works either.  It all seemed too good to be true.


When Monty Don visited Singapore as part of his ‘Around the World in 80 Gardens’ series, he was very scathing about its defining itself as a Garden City.  He found a community garden project which seemed to him a much more straightforward unequivocal approach – gardening for its own sake.  I saw some evidence of that at the Botanic Gardens where many volunteers with a passion for plants supported the staff of mostly immigrant workers in the maintenance of the gardens.


Whatever ambivalence I feel towards Singapore and its gardens I enjoyed my time there enormously.  It was intense and profound – the plants and trees and animal life expressive of an unfathomable power, as unlike an English garden as it could possibly be.  Immersing myself in it utterly, the wild, unchecked equatorial growth, vestiges of rainforest and the sheer diversity of forms and species left me wide-eyed and often enchanted.


I particularly appreciated getting to know the Heliconia family better, a native of Central America I’d first encountered in the Tropical House at Moorbank.  Last year I wrote a poem ‘about’ it called Adaptation– you can read it on the Dhamma Moon website if you’re interested.  Wonderful to see plants like these out from under glass.


Tagged , , , ,