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)
Wonderfully said, my friend. Bravo! Love your central thought: poetry as a celebration of the living and the dead, the blooming and the failing. We can write it all! It is what poets do. . I personally feel, if the animals can suffer it, I can at least bear witness, not turn away. It is a difficult grief, knowing that their struggles are human-caused. BUT I still have some hope in the transformation of consciousness. It is happening now, to some degree, just not quickly enough, and thwarted by those in power whose interests are purely selfish,and money- and power- based. Mother Nature will teach us what happens when we dont live in synch with her, and then we will be forced to learn to change our ways.
In fact, my February feature will be about holding onto hope, and the things we can do right now, to do our part. It is as simple as making conscious choices, and doing the best we can. We can write it all: our pain, our love of Mother Earth, her beauty and her creatures, what is so wrong, what can be so right…..there is no end of material to discuss in this direction. Personally, I find it hard, any longer, to write poems about flowers and clouds (though I still do), when whole continents are burning. I am more grateful for this forum than you can imagine. Here we write with people who are aware of the difficulties we find ourselves in, and are not beating those over the head who would rather not grapple with it. We all need to do what protects our own well-being. For me, that means speaking on the hard topics, at the same time remembering to be grateful for what amazing beauty there is, all around us, in the wild world. Because I love this planet and her creatures so much. Looking forward to Renewal. Mother Earth is VERY GOOD at renewal, given half a chance. Smiles.
Thanks Sherry — You know I agree that it is the LEAST we can do, as sentient cousins of the earth, to be aware and carry the world’s grief we largely caused. Difficult sure, but a poetry otherwise engaged is like running lemonade stand outside a burning house. Seeing the damage as well as the need to change and the possibility of renewal: Dunno if any one can carry that, but together? Let’s see. Sure looking forward to your hopeful challenge.
P.s. Love the 600 pound gorilla analogy!
I’ve put up an old poem, will aim to have a new one for Monday. I think this is a rich and necessary space. It’s impossible to ignore the way the world is changing, and it’s important for poets to address it. I don’t want to get too metaphysical, but we are part of the collective consciousness/unconsciousness. We bring thoughts into being, and who knows where they will end up?
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Thanks Sarah, I’d like to think a forum like this just by existing says the theme is too pervasive to not be a central occupation. I’m usually wrong, but its so encouraging to feel the resonance of others–collective consciousness is a waking, is it not?
This essay on writing poetry as “Rome burns.” is my favorite of all your essays. It squeezed my heart til tears came out of my eyes, and wild laughter out of my mouth. I want to quote it all, right through Berry’s poem, but let me just reflect back this one thing: “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 … ” This personal moment at the heart of this essay reminds me of the Romantics’ dilemma–to be trying to write the infinite when at least one of our feet is bound to earth–like two people leaning in to kiss when their lips never meet. We are suspended in a now that can not grasp how/why/that we created it, a now that neo-romantics had to escape into absurdity, that we feel both impulses in, but are married to truth. All of our allusions rewrite myth into our current morass and we apologize to ourselves for finding happiness. Well, I find happiness here because we ask the tough questions in so many versions that anyone who reads and hears has to hear at least one of them. For what other reason does repetition and and even redundancy enter our pens? Why roses and peonies? I think to have more life.
Thanks Susan — that online words elicit any response is miraculous to me, but to hear one loud amen here makes it SO worth the while … I’m deeply aware that earthweal can become sterile if it’s only purpose is to landfill our lament. Poems of climate despair can be killing, as bad as the thing itself. Rilke advised the young poet Mr. Kappus that if he felt he MUST write poems, then he should get as close to nature as he could, and write as faithfully as he could to the living instinct. And by all means, to trust the difficult … We can be happy in this work, then. I can’t wait to see the next poems to emerge here.
I am so shattered about the animals, I couldn’t even begin to write – or even read – on that topic. (Let alone the fact that I was in transit last week and internet access difficult.) Attempting a poem on renewal was not very successful either, but it does give at least a glimpse of possibility.
Love reading your thoughts here, and also the thoughtful comments of others – everyone engaging deeply with these issues.
Since my husband died unexpectedly in December, I have found the animal deaths and forests burning too painful to contemplate. It is all so painful. That being said, at Brad’s memorial reception, his stupid brother who is a staunch trump supporter asked me rather argumentatively if I believed in climate change. I told him he was inappropriate but I would answer him. I told him that is why I keep bees and why we grow clover for our lawn instead of grass and why Brad chose cremation instead of burial. That his brother believed in climate change and did not support trump. Then I walked away from him. Such ignorance is saddening. One day I will write about climate change but not for now. In the meantime, I will support your blog as much as I am able.
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Toni, so sorry to hear about your husband. You have grief enough to shoulder without taking on the world’s. As you find space within and care to, love to hear from you here. Your poems have such deep and affirming connection the the land and its life. Sorry too about gulfs in the family regarding the obvious, it makes for such tortured connections. Be well.
Thank you for your kind words Brendan.
Sorry to have missed commenting here–the discussion is rich and full of the important questions, as always. the poem by Berry is fresh for me–and speaks so eloquently to the transitory nature of our lives, of what few traces we leave behind merging with something larger, something whose very indifference is healing…some might say dispiriting, but I think there is comfort there as well. Yes, the animal deaths were difficult and grueling to examine and to attempt to address in our writing, and it absolutely exhausted me as writing seldom does–but I know it is right to speak for them, to remember them and know their importance, even if that’s all we can do and it seems too little. I also look forward to writing to the concept of renewal…I think we have to think about our own relative insignificance amongst the destroyers, and of the power of the natural world that exists around us, and has its own time and tools and purposes in its eons of time to both heal and destroy, and effect and annul any change in its own inexorable way. Thanks for the work you do here, B., and best wishes for carrying the weight forward in all spheres of your life. It’s what we do, isn’t it?
Thanks Hedge — The poems I’ve written grieving the damage of humanity has been some of the most wrenching for me too. Yearning for the end of the human for the sake of the world is a-theist in the darkest way. Robinson Jeffers managed it 50 years ago, but it was very lonely work. Renewal may never be found until after we’re gone. But that is an end to poetry as well, and the singer says find something there, find something there … So I keep writing. I can’t not write the poems, but I must write through them as well. We’ll see. Looking forward to what the tribe has to say. — Brendan
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I love the intelligent and aware discussions in here as much as the poems, I think. We have needed such a space. Thanks, Brendan. Joy, your thoughts about earth’s ability to renew and heal herself is how I am holding on these days. She will survive. I would wish it was with us, but we have big lessons to learn quickly for that to happen. Your poem about the wild horses made me cry. Such beautiful animals, so intelligent, so peaceful. I sent your poem to my sister, who has two of those glorious creatures and who mourns what is happening to the wild horses, too.
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Sherry, it is truly tragic the murdering of the wild horses in the west. I hope it will make you smile to know that the wild horses on the VA and NC coasts are protected by the states and that the residents of the states protect them vehemently. They out out hay for them during lean times and even provide medical care if needed. These magnificent creatures run wild and free in no fear of their lives. It is so sad that the western states do not have the love and respect for them. By smile dear. They are loved and revered here.
That is very reassuring to hear. Thank you, Sakura. (You have a lovely name!)
Thanks for the hard work you’ve put into earthweal, Sherry, for the clarity of wild voices and the deep heart which is possible in them. – Brendan
You are welcome, Brendan. I am only too happy to help out!
Happy Sunday! I was thinking about climate change and the weather today. I wonder if winter will linger or if spring will arrive. It’s all too unpredictable as we have extreme patterns of weather these day. One day it’s cold and the next warm. (sigh)
I can’t access your entry. I’m told that the link doesn’t exist.