Welcome to the mosh pit in the vale! Earthweal’s linking whamarama blasts off on Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST. Share a poem, short or long, new or old, bluey or yahooey. Throw us a rope, for hope or nope!
Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where on Earth you post from.
Be sure to visit your fellow poets and comment. Discussion as what on Earth your fellows are writing about is a renewable source; treat it as such.
Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday.
Since the early earthweal challenges have all been an uphill slog into wrong & wronger, this coming Monday we shift gears with a challenge on Renewal.
Your fruitful and communal conversation is also welcome in the comments section.
Deep thanks and gratitude to Sherry Marr for her Animals of Climate change challenge here last week. It was a difficult challenge for many, but contributions were rich and diverse—quite a habitat for song. The animal toll from a violently changing atmosphere is immense—how to conceive of a billion animals lost to Australian wildfire, a million seabirds to ocean heat, whole ecosystems erased due to human intervention? One dead koala bids a thousand grieving poems; is there any way possible to sing the entire vanished population? Maybe our plural voices helped register the lament.
Some complained of how wearying and depressing it was to even try to write a poem under such weight. Silence is certainly one option, as much out of personal survival as not wishing to add to the burden of all.
But many of you did respond—it one of the richest forums for posting and comment at this new forum so far—and the result was love and grief and anger and sadness all reflected in a suffering animal’s eye.
Hard work, and it begs a difficult question: Why even bother? Does staring directly into catastrophe do anything to relieve suffering or provide hope?
It’s a good question, and the responses I’ve searched for are fragmentary at best.
First, we may not have much of a choice. It’s getting harder to find a space where poems can grow unaffected by climate change. Whether the prevailing winds of cultural mood are changing, or its weather driven by climate change, the interior landscape we write by seems less and less free to roam the former occupations of love, liquorish and languor. It’s said that when you make love to a 600 pound gorilla, the sex is over when the ape decides; climate change won’t go away, and the world it is remaking is the one we have to make poetry in.
The news has developed the ostinato cadence of catastrophe—what a week! Coronovius from a game market in China, volcanic eruptions in the Philippines and New Zealand, earthquakes in the Carribbean, flooding in Jakarta, wildfires edging close and closer to Australia’s parliament in Canberra as temperatures soar again. And now parts of Brazil are experiencing the most torrential rainfall ever recorded, with city streets turning into rivers and landslides knocking houses off cliffs and burying shanty towns. Meanwhile the jet stream wobbles ever more wildly as the Arctic melts causing unseasonable heat and cold; dangerous amounts of methane releases from melting permafrost as well as who knows what viruses, sunny day floods in coastal cities around the world, the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica melting fast and faster, Venice flooding, water shortages in major cities: Who doesn’t know the litany?
But where it once seemed like news from far away, indiscriminate events bring disaster nearer to us all—maybe not directly, but rounding ever closer. Far fewer feel safe, and less have much confidence that the future will see any improvement. Why wouldn’t our poetry be similarly stained and strained, even maimed by such constantly darkening skies?
Should poetry be a haven from that—hunkering down into whatever relative comforts can be found elsewhere at hand? I could tell you about my history, my bad thirst, my love and loves, the grace of semi-wild things curled in my lap as I write: All noble topics, but is that really the news any more? Worse, do my occupations farther afield start to bear the ironic drone of the merely selfish, that very quality which now burns Australia and renders the poor of Brazil helpless against the assault of floodwater?
OK, but isn’t there a cost in writing for too long or deeply exposed to such harsh radiation? Despair of the theme of a damaged, fouling and heating Earth can become a telltale leitmotif, tocking inexorably like the footfalls of a reaping shadow. Lah de dah. What life that is still in us can feel squelched and drained. I sometimes wonder about themes which used to absorb me which I can’t find much interest in writing about. Where did my interest in them go? Maybe it’s true that I’m just getting to be an old poet whose drone suffices but cannot add; Helen Vendler once said that the peril of the lyric poet is a finite aging self. But then maybe the divining rod is pulling me toward a work I barely grasp. It feels like dying, but it also may mean renewal. New poems at least …
We can take climate change as a call to grow in ways we haven’t been willing to before. We can record nature with more love and devotion to think in its way, cherish what still remains.
I can become a more faithful disciple of the difficult, a quality which has always aided poets in writing better poems. Imagine a forum where that work is essential.
Besides, I owe something to the dead—remembrance, redress, amends—making the effort to numerate the species lost, elegize days which won’t return, listen to the lament of ghosts on a cold night’s breeze. The contributions this week to Sherry’s challenge brought us polar bears and river dolphins, wild horses and orcas, butterflies and joeys and careening birds: I’m grateful there is soapbox for that choir.
I also owe something to the future. Doubtful that anything I say or said will endure, I am still part of the moment’s conversation which others down the road—to future generations who will have to contend with ever-more dramatic losses—who will examine cultural remnants like this, asking, Did they know? Did they speak out? Was their grief loud enough to have the resonance of apology? Was their work an amends? Did it have enough substance for forgiveness, or at least was willing to be target for rage?
Most importantly, such poetry would be suffocating and pointless if it were only about a common problem and peril. We all can see where this is going. Is there also a common solution? Poets are solitary animals, singing alone on distant branches: community and communion we have more with dead poets than our living fellows. Poetry is also a vanishing art in the age of brassy online noise. The world is vanishing too. Can poetry be a celebration of both the living and the dead, the blooming and failing world?
We can all see pretty well how we got here and grieve the resulting affects. But does the work stop there? Nature is a cycle of death and renewal; is there a way of working poetry through its despair into an embrace of new possibilities? Jedidiah Purdy writes in After Nature: A Politics of the Anthropocene,
It is true that climate change, so far, has outrun the human capacity for self-restraint. As greenhouse-gas levels rise and the earth’s systems shift, climate change has also begun to overwhelm the very idea that there is a “nature” to be saved or preserved. If success means keeping things as they are, we have already failed, probably irrevocably. This is why climate change is the emblematic problem of the Anthropocene: It is both a driver and a symbol of a thoroughly transformed world.
We need new standards for shaping, managing, and living well in a transformed world. Familiar ideas of environmental failure and success will not reliably serve anymore. We should ask, of efforts to address climate change, not just whether they are likely to “succeed” at solving the problem, but whether they are promising experiments—workable approaches to valuing a world that we have everywhere changed, and to thinking how we will change it next. Climate change gives us a model of how familiar approaches to environmental problems can break down, and how the problems that disintegrate those familiar approaches can become the seedbed of new approaches. The old adage was never truer or more relevant: we make the road by walking. (249)
Can our weal turn a welted world into a well of new possibilities? It’s what the old shaman-poets did: made wombs out of wounds. Our words can become new worlds.
A poem by Wendell Berry suggest how to crack that door and begin to see what’s next:
Where the road came, no longer bearing men,
but briars, honeysuckle, buckbush and wild grape,
the house fell into ruin, and only the old wife’s daffodils
rose in spring among the wild vines to be domestic
and to keep the faith, and her peonies drenched the tangle
with white bloom. for a while in the years of its wilderness
a wayfaring drunk slept clinched to the floor there
in the cold nights. And then I came, and set fire
to the remnants of the house and shed, and let time
hurry in the flame. I fired it so that all
would burn, and watched the blaze settle on the waste
like a shawl. I knew those old ones departed
then, and I arrived. As the fire fed, I felt rise in me
something that would not bear my name—something that
through the flame, and is lightened of us, and is glad.
from Farming: A Hand Book (1970)