hello earth!

Image: StockSnap


Welcome to earthweal, a poetry forum dedicated to global witness of a changing  Earth. Here is a place to report that news in the language closest to the dream, that we may more deeply appreciate the magnitude of those events. It is intended as a place for all related emotions—love and rage, grief and hope, myth and magic, laughter and ghost whistles—and belongs to the entire community of Earth as mediated by its human advocates.

Every Monday a climate-related challenge will post, and participants will have most of the week to mull over and fashion their own contributions. Responses should address the challenge in the form of new poetry, but if there is something more suitable in your archives, that’s OK too. 

Friday will kick off a weekend-long open link forum; post whatever you like from your present or past work. Look for the open link weekend to kick off this Friday, Jan. 3, at 4 PM Eastern Standard Time.

* * *

The word weal has a complex etymology. In one sense, weal is wealth, riches, boon, benefit, a happy community. It derives from Old English wela “wealth, well-being” and Middle English wele. Weal as well, that which is best for something. Weal imagines the healthy and prosperous state of the commonwealth.

All good, but the context of commonwealth fairness and equity usually refers only to the local human community. Earthweal suggest a global community, not only of humans but animals, plants, bacteria, minerals, water, air. For a sense of scale, the recent Australian brushfires have resulted in the loss of homes and several human lives, but some 450 million animals have perished as well.  

Earthweal is a place where the whole Earth community can share context and purpose.

To survive, commonwealths depend on ordering principles. (For an example, see the charter of The Commonwealth, a global organization of 53 countries devoted to democracy and peace.) One sense of the Middle English root wale is a planking which holds a structure together, gunwales are the outer planking of a ship, as are chainwales, from which the word channel arrives. Strength comes from limit; members of a community sacrifice some measure of personal freedom for the whole. Earthweal has a defined purpose, a center of gravity which belongs to the planet. It takes many planks to define that boundary; hopefully, poems from around the world submitted here will suggest the magnitude(s) of that world.

But achieving the “complicate amassing harmony” (which Wallace Stevens called the ultimate end of poetry) in global terms—and where it is most essential—is exceptionally difficult. I’ve noted how international voices inform poetry forums like Poets United, D’Verse Poets and Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, albeit limited to the language of English. That is a quality earthweal takes a step further, its ecosystem of verse dependent upon global voices.

And while the forums mentioned above do exceptional work, there is no place specifically dedicated to a changing Earth.  Now that climate change is beginning to wreak havoc around the world and is expected to intensify for centuries, local indices of that change appeal to a collective loom where the entire tapestry can be seen.  A second etymology weal comes from the obsolete root wheal meaning “suppurate”: a raised, longitudinal wound, usually purple, on the surface of flesh caused by a stroke of a rod or a whip. It is also landscape feature; Old English walu, “ridge, bank; rib, comb; the metal ridge on top of a helmet; a raised rib in a knit of fabric.”

We cannot write of the Earth these days without bearing witness to its great Anthropocene wounding. The only way to the greater community embraced by earthweal is through its wounds. By those stripes may our changing world be found.

If that seems like a cruel task, let us remember Wendell Berry’s clarity in his poem “Work Song”:  “This is no paradisal dream. / Its hardship is its possibility.”

The root weal is also sonically related to three other favorite words, and they too can be applied to the handle: EarthWheel for turning, EarthWell for depth, and EarthWhale for deep aquaean harmonies to the more evident terran birdsong.

Many planks for one song: your local news is important. How is climate change affecting your neighborhood?  I can write abstractly about wildfires in California or the Amazon or Australia or Indonesia, but my local experience is with hurricanes bearing down on Florida ever larger and wider and wilder. Hurricanes develop slowly and take days to march across the ocean, increasing local anxiety as they near; there are runs on groceries and storm supplies at the food markets and big box hardware stores; there are more days as the storm’s track changes somewhat, the center moving over a different proximity. Many times the worst passes, hammering coasts elsewhere, flooding someone else’s streets; and yet it is a shared experience, gathering hurricane supplies for our houses, wondering if the generator will crank and how long it will be before power is restored.  There are not small anxieties any more as hurricanes whip up to Category 5 strength or, with Dorian this year, even worse. Carbon emissions pump unabated, the oceans are heating and becoming storm-smiths of awful magnitudes.  

Monday challenges will center on one or another aspect of climate change: wildfire, draught, heat, cold, the jet stream, the ocean currents, animal extinction, sea level rise, etc. Each of these changing conditions has a local story, and earthweal challenges aim to give voice to them all.

The timing of Earthweal’s launch is important for several reasons. Climate events are multiplying and magnifying, yearly, seasonally, daily, and there needs to be location for poets around the world to register these events in their timely collective voice. Second, a vacancy has opened with the end of Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, the magical and imaginative forum hosted by Kerry O’Connor, and earthweal hopes to help fill that void. And finally, launching earthweal on the first day of a new decade is a good way embark on a journey which will take us through many things we don’t understand and can’t anticipate any more.

A word about me. For years I have posted under the screen name of Brendan MacOdrum at the blog Oran’s Well. I am named after the Irish navigator and an old figure from Scottish myth, a seal-man haunting the shores of Iona. I can’t decide whether to switch to a more local handle, like Porky or Swamp Thang, or go with my real name of David. We’ll see; for now Brendan sails this ship.

As earthweal grows, others will be invited to carry some of the load or submit occasional challenges. Tasking Florida alone to the crow’s nest makes for a solitary view, hardly the intent of this blog.

As earthweal begins, I quote Wendell Berry’s poem in full here as the hope I plant in its foundation:

          Work Song, 2: A Vision

If we will have the wisdom to survive, 
to stand like slow growing trees 
in a ruined place, renewing, enriching it… 
then a long time after we are dead 
the lives our lives prepare will live 
here, their houses strongly placed 
upon the valley sides… 
The river will run 
clear, as we will never know it… 
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down 
the old forest, an old forest will stand, 
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots. 
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened. 
Families will be singing in the fields… 
native to this valley, will spread over it 
like a grove, and memory will grow 
into legend, legend into song, song 
into sacrament. The abundance of this place, 
the songs of its people and its birds, 
will be health and wisdom and indwelling 
light. This is no paradisal dream. 
Its hardship is its reality. 

(from Clearing, 1977)

See you this weekend!

— Brendan

19 thoughts on “hello earth!

  1. The thought of sharing this from the personal point is great… yes here in Stockholm the winter is becoming shorter every year, and though weather and climate is different, you do remember the times you would use a snow shovel earlier. I will see what I can do on this …


    • Thanks Bjorn. Some places are experiencing cataclysmic change and events — like the Australian wildfires — while others are spectrally recalibrating. We need to see through both filters, I think. Some of the eeriness has to do with the difference between the two. See ya round here soon.


  2. Thank you for creating this space. We are the stewards of the earth and she cries to be heard in changing times. Let us bring honor to the quest and evolve into people of awakening.

    Today, the sky is thick with gray clouds but, I see a lining of blue on this first day of 2020 – The Year of Visions. We must keep our eyes open and share what we see and feel in our changing environment.


  3. Now more than ever we need to find our ‘indwelling light,’ as the darkness moves over the face of a wounded and suffering planet. As you know, my own voice has been silent for a long time, strangled by exhaustion and events, but I can only be glad that as whispers of it return, we find new places to sing, and new causes for our songs, particularly after losing the forum of the Garden.The face of poetry blogging is changing, as we are called to a higher level of activism and serious concern; that calling also needs new platforms, as you so cogently describe above. Best wishes for this launch, and this new month/year/decade/life, and thanks for having the fortitude to help us begin a new path as the old ones melt away in the heat and chaos of a burning/flooding/ripped apart world..


    • Thanks Hedgewitch — I’ve waylaid the launch of this for a long time, unsure if I have anything left to say (the creative’s eternal lament) and am up for the work of tending a forum like this, but there is no way to not see the storm whirling up around us and not to respond is a world-killer for sure. Focus might be narrow here and may appeal to fewer–and yes, the art itself is morphing fast –but there aren’t enough lifeboats and still much work that can be done. Hope you join the first fray on Friday. I know you’ve got plenty of ragnarocknroll in your Oklahoma archives!


  4. Yay! Thank you for creating a place for us to gather, Brendan, in our shared concern for this planet we share. I resonate with the above comments that we are called at this time to share a higher vision, and, as Joy says, a higher level of activism. Here on the West Coast of Canada we had a series of nine earthquakes in two days recently, reminding us that The Big One is due any time. We are also watching the last of the old growth being clearcut which seems to me criminally insane, as the planet heats. Sigh. It will be good to have a place to share my pain over the climate crisis – and what hope I can muster – with like-minded people. This is a most hopeful way to begin the first day of the new year. 2020 will be an important year, with a crucial election. We are at a moment when we are battling for not just the life of earth and its innocent creatures – but the soul of humanity, which has lived in darkness for too long. Time to evolve. We are meant to be so much more than this.


    • Thanks Sherry, it is so wonderful to see poets already lining up to pitch in. Sometimes the rumbles come from afar, and other times they are surfacing underfoot … I’ve read about the earthquake/tsunami threat to the upper Pacific coast, and it’s of an incomprehensible magnitude … It’s like a weather system which forms off Florida in the summer, you don’t know if it’s going to brush by or plow through, at levels of intensity and severity the world is just now beginning to experience. So many fronts have to be contended if one chooses to have a heart and keep saying yes. We sure need yours.


  5. I think there has never been a better time for a site such as earthweal. As poets, we are ever tapping into the rhythms of nature and many of us are fueled by the environments in which we live. How could we not be feeling the trauma of climate change, burnt earth policies and impending extinction of major species in the next decade?

    David, I wish you and your team the very best going forward. Thank you for creating awareness in a most creative way.


    • Thanks Kerry, I really hope you can participate at earthweal with your poetic takes from the vantage of South Africa (though of course not limited to there ). So very much needed. Appreciate operational input whenever you see fit.


  6. So glad you did this, David. Will be happy to participate as often as possible. It is a subject close to my heart and it will be wonderful to amplify voices that are calling for immediate action.


  7. Here amidst the fires, those of us who are surrounded by them but not yet right in them go about our business with the terrible conviction that we are all absolutely doomed. If you don’t mind poems of cynicism and despair…. An unaccustomed mindset for me, but there it is.


      • It’s such a huge catastrophe, it must make daily life in Australia so fraught. Decades of inaction on climate change is showing itself the most dramatically on your shores. Hope you come by here to sing about it, either tonight at the open link or Monday’s challenge of Wildfire.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Will do it now, my friend. Likely to be v busy Monday with the start of the new year at Poets United.

        PS David is my favourite name (I gave it to my firstborn for that reason). But Brendan is a good name too, and I’ve known you by it so long now that I’m happy this site is hoisted by Brendan, at least until further notice. Also, I’d like to suggest that once you have established a particular name as a poet, it may be unwise to change it.


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