weekly challenge: RENEWAL

Fireweed is a native plant that’s found throughout the temperate northern hemisphere including some areas in the boreal forests. It earned its name because this plant is the first colonizer in the soil after forest fires.

 

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.

 

RENEWAL

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.

SOWING

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.

BEING SAVED

William Stafford

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!

—Brendan

22 thoughts on “weekly challenge: RENEWAL

  1. I may have totally missed the renewal boat as described up top with mine, but hopefully have not totally screwed up. It’s late now, but I will be back to read more of your thoughts on all of this in the (later) morning after sleep and coffee.

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  2. Thanks H — The original post was the marriage of an earlier vague attempt and something yesterday which felt more on topic. I’ve edited out the long second half. I should learn to unleash post challenges from the 55 stable.

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    • Both your poem choices are so well-suited to the whole, not just destruction replaced with weeds and ruins, but something passing which truly births something else. It’s too easy to forget, tho, that birth is one of the most painful things flesh knows, so we either think it will all just happen painlessly, or we only feel the pangs, not the possibilities. Thanks again for a prompt which both clarifies and inspires–something badly needed. (And yes, the briefer intro was much quicker to read and easier to absorb–the 55 has many lessons for those of us, and I include myself, who fall a bit too much in love with words. 😉 ) Again, good luck going forward, and glad to hear you have a good backup plan in place.

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      • Thanks H — ‘Tis said that the leading cause of death is birth, by a wide margin — which says that renewal births in the chaos of destruction. It only looks like renewal in hindsight, I suppose … Thanks for the good luck wishes for personal renewal, death of a career wakens new possibilities …

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  3. Another gorgeous reflective essay, Brenden! It will take me awhile to write this one as I’d like to be as contemplative about how my renewal and earth’s renewals are working together (or not yet) as you are. This is the kind of question that stops a person short with the invitation to eschew glibness in favor of a spiritual vulnerability. I welcome it.

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  4. Beautifully expressed, Brendan. I will be back, having just read a most wonderful book by Pam Houston, titled Deep Creek, all about the natural world, hope and renewal. First am heading to the wild shore in the sunshine. I empathize with your state of transition, and am glad you have choices, options and possibilities. I can see you on a local council. Local governments always need good people. Nice you wont have to commute!

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    • Thanks Sherry — and thanks for the wilderness renewal you brought with your poetry this week. Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things” is truly a tonic for troubled times:

      When despair for the world grows in me
      and I wake in the night at the least sound
      in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
      I go and lie down where the wood drake
      rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
      I come into the peace of wild things
      who do not tax their lives with forethought
      of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
      And I feel above me the day-blind stars
      waiting with their light. For a time
      I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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  5. I’m sorry about your job, but I get the impression that it’s not so much part of your identity that you won’t be able to treat this with some philosophy. A good time to be looking at renewal, hopefully. I hope you are renewed, and find renewed pleasure and interest in some bits of yourself that have been (inevitably) neglected. Good luck!

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  6. Brendan, I have submitted 2 different, but very personal poems, for this week’s challenge. Should you think that they don’t fit, please remove them. One can’t renew the world around us, if we’re still suffer from trauma, of all forms. To which, I wish only positive healing thoughts, to those, who need it the most.

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  7. Hi Brendan…sorry about your job, I haven’t been through that experience but have been on the verge of it a number of times and it wasn’t pleasant. In the company I worked for there was a saying at one point that the pessimists leave their car running in the parking lot and the optimists bring their lunch. I eventually semi retired and went back to work on contract after they asked me to work in Siberia! If you can get it…..part time work is nice, leaves time for other things. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying earthweal and your posts, so keep up the good work…JIM

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    • Thanks JIm — It was said of the jazz pianist Bill Evans that his career amounted to the longest slowest suicide ever — heights of ecstatic creation and sure self-destruction were weirdly woven. The shadow of job loss has been over my shoulder since 1990, so I’ve made a career in that light. When I left a job at the daily newspaper in 1998, there were 1,800 employees — today there are less than 100 working there. The big ships go down slowly but surely. I may have lost my employer, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have a job to do. Thanks for coming round here.

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