Welcome to earthweal, a poetry forum dedicated to global witness of the Earth’s changing climate and its effect on daily life. Here is a place to report that news in the language of 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.
Fridays at 4 PM EST kicks off a weekend-long open link forum; post whatever you like from your present or past work, though it’s hoped you’ll use the opportunity to bear witness to our changing earth from a vantage of your choice.
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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 persihed 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, founding itself in the “amassing harmony” of global voices.
It is hoped that each participant can be emissary from a particular local and ecosystem and culture and feel responsible for reporting that particular news.
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 that change cry for collective loom where the thread is rough and difficult. A second etymology weal comes from the obsolete root wheal meaning “supperate”: 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 strange aquaean harmonies to the more evident terran birdsong.
Many planks for one song: your local news is important. How is climate change affecting your town? I can write abstractly about wildfires in California or the Amazon or Australia or Indonesia, but my 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 and the Earth’s climate worsens now at a speed only the doomsayers had anticipated.
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.
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
(from Clearing, 1977)
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.