Welcome to earthweal’s fifth weekly poetry challenge. We have covered some difficult themes—fire, ghosts, water, animals. Today we switch gears somewhat and focus on Renewal: How is your world opening new doors?
In these themed prompts, poets are asked to submit a poem with local perspectives on global events and / or illustrate it through the lens of your artistic expression and development. The weekly forum launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.
Friday night we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely.
If RENEWAL is all you need to start working on your poem, Mr Linky follows. A write on the theme follows.
My job was eliminated by my company this past week, and for the first time in 40 years I’m unemployed. I saw it coming and have a parachute of sorts for the time being—we’ll be fine. I bring it up here because what I’m going through personally has a lot to do with this week’s theme of Renewal.
Having reached the end of one career in the collapsing newspaper industry, I’m starting over. I have a chance to take stock and look at what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s possible I can retire (though I would like to keep working). I can get involved in things locally I couldn’t when I was a full time commuting worker drone—volunteer, or maybe run for the seat for my district on city council. Some things I have to let go of—that daily New York Times, and a favorite AA meeting in Orlando—but then I won’t be forced to continue the guilty necessity of consuming so much fossil fuel for a 250-mile weekly commute.
Still, I feel like one self has been burned to the ground. Fire is a natural occurrence in many forest ecosystems; it clears out old and overgrown vegetation and recycles nutrients back into the soil. Old life goes away, new life returns. What’s next? Nothing is very clear right now but what has been lost.
(Not all forest ecosystems respond well to fire; rainforests are vulnerable and we’re seeing swaths of the Amazon forest turning toward dryer savannah conditions, with more grass and less trees. Climate change is also affecting the Australian wilderness; its growing too hot and dry for forests. Tipping points make renewal a different story, one which is unpredictable.)
Renewal is an organic process, and to participate in it is a form of husbandry, as Wendell Berry writes.
In the stilled place that once was a road going down
from the town to the river, and where the lives of marriages grew
a house, cistern and barn, flowers, the tiled stone of borders,
and the deeds of their lives ran to neglect, and honeysuckle
and then the fire overgrew it all, I walk heavy
with seed, spreading on the cleared hill the beginnings
of green, clover and grass to be pasture. Between
history’s death upon the place and the trees that would have come
I claim, and act, and am mingled in the fate of the world.
—from Farming: A Hand Book (1969)
Ergo, my renewal and the world’s are part of the same act. There are many human transformations underway in the 21st century—dramatic and subtle, some for the better, others for the worse. Through history I am invested in a certain transit, or thought I was. But many things are changing, and the husbandry (and, yes, mid-wifery) of that is difficult. But it will be done.
Thomas Kineally, an Australian novelist (Schindler’s List), published an op-ed on Feb. 1 for the Australian edition of The Guardian on climate change and wildfire in Australia. Facing the growing possibility of an uninhabitable continent due to heat and fire, Kineally exhorted the denialist government of Scott Morrison to wake up to new possibilities. ” After our long glorying in minerals, it is promised that, if it wishes, Australia can be a leader in the new post-fossil-fuel world. It is a destiny our politicians seem unwilling to embrace, but they may have to.”
“For the fires have changed us,” he concluded. “Perhaps we, too, need fire to germinate an essential concept.”
Renewal is found in the ashes, there lies the germinating concept. But what does renewal look like?
As Heraclitus said, nothing can be properly named which is not first fully separated; Rage and Grief need their mosh-pit, so to speak. We have seen plenty of both here. But is that work an end in itself? Such poems eventually run out of oxygen, rope or ledge. I’m not sure what comes after, but it can be envisaged.
Maybe we start with something small.
We have all we need, some kind of sky and maybe
a piece of river. It doesn’t take much more
if your ghost remembers the rest, how Aunt Flavia
called the cows in the evening, and there wasn’t
anything coming down the road except a Ford
now and then, or a wagon with a lantern.
You could smell a little hay just to remind
the wind that sunlight would come back, and that
Heaven waited somewhere even if you couldn’t see it.
I don’t care now if the world goes backward—
we already had our show before the tornado came,
and somehow I feel in my hand all we ever held,
a ticket, a compass, a piece of iron,
our kind of pardon.
from Even In Quiet Places (1996)
For this week’s challenge, submit a poem about RENEWAL. What does renewal look like in a vastly changing world? What is worth saving? Does one have to read the ashes to see it? Is it dreamlike in possibility? What other clues are there in our present situation? What is it like to begin?
Here’s to Renewal! Start writing!