Welcome to earthweal’s weekly poetry challenge.
This forum is dedicated to the varied responses to the climate emergency we are all now a part of. The root “-weal” in the title has three central meanings — “welt,” a land scarred by human intervention; “wealth,” the hope of a healed whole-earth community (like the word commonwealth, only critters and trees and rocks partake, too ); and “wale,” a binding element similar to the strip of metal used to bind a barrel or the gunwale of a ship, here as something to hold everything together. Earthweal is a place to both mourn and love a changing Earth. (For more, see the about earthweal page.)
In these weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge 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 SOLASTALGIA is all you need to start working on your poem, Mr Linky follows. A write on the theme follows.
Homesick For a Vanishing World
As one who moved around a lot in his earlier years, the eventual finding and making and sustaining of a place I call home has resulted in the most productive and happy chapters of my life.
The longing of my wandering years—a sea-like yearning that one day I might find lasting harbor—was a form of homesickness, much like that of an orphan hoping to one day to reconnect with a lost mother or father.
And now, having formed a deep sense of place over two decades of living at the same place in Central Florida, homecomings are always dear, whether it’s from coming back from a trip (as I did many times visiting my old father in Pennsylvania) or driving back home after another day working in an office at the far end of a commute. Weirdly, now that both father and job are gone, there is a strange homesickness for those places I was present in, too.
I’m very aware how fortunate I am and give thanks for it daily; it is a privilege I do not greatly deserve, and I understand how readily, randomly and viciously the Wheel can turn round the other way. But not today.
More than 65 million people world-wide are refugees, displaced from home and homeland due to political instability, much of that resulting from the disruptions of climate change. Very few—less than a hundred thousand—return to their homes every year, while an equal minute fraction find new homes in next countries. The rest remain in limbo, with no welcome behind or ahead of them. Pity the refugees from Central America fleeing farms no longer productive due to climate change and ravaging gangs; caught before the American border, they are sent to camps where they wait to be returned to the nothing and worse they left behind.
Magnified events displace magnified numbers from their homes. Last year when Tropical Cyclone Idai mowed into the coast of Mozambique, it was the worst storm in the country’s history. displacing 146,000 people, damaging 100,000 homes and destroying 1 million acres of crops. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will generate some 143 more climate migrants, an estimated third of those on the move due to sudden disasters.
Climate change is deeply affecting the destinies of so many within the borders of our respective homelands. An estimated 2.1 million residents of South Florida alone will be forced to relocate due to rising seas, many of them relocating to where I live in Central Florida. Local homelessness will swell as well due to continuing economic upheaval and widening drift of the privileged class away from the 95 per cent.
The homeless may become the defining demographic of the 21st Century.
What happens to the heart when one loses their home? Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and professor of sustainability, put it this way:
People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.
Albrecht observes that many native inhabitants—Australian aborigines and any number of indigenous peoples around the world—report this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced.
In the Anthropocene, there is another, perhaps more widespread disorientation, because all around the world people who haven’t moved are finding themselves homesick because their homeland is vanishing. So many feel this same sense of “place pathology,” not because they had been removed from home soil, but as their home communities are becoming ruined by development or becoming inhabitable due to climate change.
In a 2004 essay, Albrecht named this condition solastalgia, a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’” Albrecht called solastalgia is a depressive mental condition.
Solastalgia may be the melancholia of the Anthropocene, a hollowing homesickness in a sickening home.
Here in the United States, one can’t help but look on vast corporate farms of corn and soybeans stretching for thousands of acres while small towns across rural America empty out for lack of work; or drive through vast tracts of suburban blight wondering how anyone could feel at home there; or see the opioid epidemic as the cheapest and most devastating remedy to hopeless yearning for home, or witness the soaring suicide rate among both indigenous peoples, farm workers, middle aged displaced and the gig-economy young, and wonder what happened to the future.
There’s an African American church just outside of my town which has sat empty for decades since the last black residents moved away for lack of grove jobs or service work in old Southern homes. (All those groves are now being sold, at great profit, for New South housing development.) I drive by that church every day watching it slowly crumble down and back, wondering what happens to a community when its cornerstones vanish. What happens to the vision of observers like me.
How to treat this new melancholy? Albrecht suggests the following:
All of our emotional, intellectual and practical efforts (must) be redirected towards healing the rift that has occurred between ecosystem and human health, both broadly defined. In science, such a commitment might be manifest in the full redirection of scientific investment and effort to an ethically inspired and urgent practical response to the forces that are destroying ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. The need for an “ecological psychology” that re-establishes full human health (spiritual and physical) within total ecosystem health has been articulated by many leading thinkers worldwide. The full transdisciplinary idea of health involves the healing of solastalgia via cultural responses to degradation of the environment in the form of drama, art, dance and song at all scales of living from the bioregional to the global. The potential to restore unity in life and achieve genuine sustainability is a scientific, ethical, cultural and practical response to this ancient, ubiquitous but newly defined human illness.
Whatever ground Professor Albrecht has covered since, hopefully it will have some value and use today as Australians look at their hot, burning, increasingly inhabitable homeland and wonder where there is to go.
Write a new poem on the theme of Solastalgia. What’s it like to be homesick in a sick land, particularly your own? What are you refugee from? How does your life intersect with migrant humanity, with the homeless, with homeowners who have no home in the future? What is the healthy and sustainable road out from solastalgia? What’s the report, the witness, from your neck of the woods? Maybe we can cobble together here a global witness.
Find out what solastalgia looks and feels like to you: Then bring your discoveries to earthweal.
Thank God for Holderlin: Where danger grows, salvation too is on the increase.
Peter Matthiessen’s novel In Paradise, published just after his death in 2014 at age 86, explores solastalgia in a gas oven. Set in Poland in the mid-1990s, it follows a meditation retreat in the death-camp of Auschwitz. For three days, people of various national, religious and philosophical bent meditate and attempt to bear ecumenical “witness” to one of the most horrifying relics of Nazi Germany’s final solution to racial impurity and the end of a long road from home for some 1 million Jews.
Over the course of this night sea journey Matthiessen raises and dispenses many questions: Can any but a survivor of the death camp experience can bear true witness to what happened there? Can there be any legitimate response to a place of annihilation? And can any true voice or presence of holocaust can still be “at home” there, in one of the most homeless way-stations in human history?
Tough questions, and Matthiessen is sparing in his answers. Auschwitz is what it is, and no one living passes through that morgue of the spirit without catching its chill. A rabbi leads participants in the Kaddish or Prayer for the Dead at the Black Wall, where some 30 to 40 thousand prisoners were shot to death in the early years of the camp. “It is the voice of the living calling out prayer across the void to the nameless, numberless dead who do not answer,” he says. Most of Matthiessen’s answers are calibrated by that silence.
But Matthiessen observes this: After three days of meditation, prayer, encounter and hard debate among the participants in this Hadean harrow of death, many felt a homesickness as they were leaving—as if by making space for inhumanity and death inside themselves, their humanity was enlarged. “The only whole heart is the broken heart, but it must be fully broken,” another rabbi says that in the shadowy gloom of the Oven—and strangely, on the last night they are there, those utterly broken by the encounter find themselves suddenly dancing, like children at recess, as if they had come home at last. It’s an utterly unexpected gift, hilarious, profane, perfect.
What do we know about the heart, that compass whose pole star ever points us toward home? Even in its darkness, solastalgia offers orienting truths.
SEARCHING FOR PITTSBURGH
The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night,
between the liver and the stomach. Comes to the heart
and hesitates. Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.
Goes deeper, searching for what remains of Pittsburgh
in me. The rusting mills sprawled gigantically
along three rivers. The authority of them.
The gritty alleys where we played every evening were
stained pink by the inferno always surging in the sky,
as though Christ and the Father were still fashioning
the Earth. Locomotives driving through the cold rain,
lordly and bestial in their strength. Massive water
flowing morning and night throughout a city
girded with ninety bridges. Sumptuous-shouldered,
sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable.
All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted graces.
A city of brick and tired wood. Ox and sovereign spirit.
Primitive Pittsburgh. Winter month after month telling
of death. The beauty forcing us as much as harshness.
Our spirits forged in that wilderness, our minds forged
by the heart. Making together a consequence of America.
The fox watched me build my Pittsburgh again and again.
In Paris afternoons on Buttes-Chaumont. On Greek islands
with their fields of stone. In beds with women, sometimes,
amid their gentleness. Now the fox will live in our ruined
house. My tomatoes grow ripe among weeds and the sound
of water. In this happy place my serious heart has made.
from The Great Fires (1995)
Portions of this week’s challenge were adapted from a 2017 prompt I wrote for Imaginary Garden With Real Toads