31 January 2018
By Sam Illingworth
Following on from my previous post, in which I described the process of curating a book of poetry about climate change, I would now like to share with you a collection of the poems that feature in A Change of Climate. Some of the poems in this collection are sad, some of them are funny, and some of them like ‘We are no longer interested in the sea’ by Michael Conley, are angry:
We are no longer interested in the sea.
The sea is a tiresome old man shouting
down dementia’s cushioned corridors
and we are not fooled by its bluster. In fact
we are sick of the sea. We are sick
of its desire to relive former glories,
its gatecrashery of our parties,
its pathetic attempts at coup d’etat.
We should kill it. We should go
to the beach at night and pelt the sea
with stones until our breath pricks
our lungs like a swallowed anemone.
Bring everything you have: kettles,
refrigerators, old washing machines.
Pitch them in. Force everything we have ever built
down its open gullet and lose yourselves
in the ecstasy of it. We will drown the sea
in solidity and we will walk upon it
in our thousands. The earth and the sky
will be forced to sit up and take notice.
Talking about climate change is difficult. Even experts find it challenging to establish a common language that communicates their research, statistics, and emotions effectively. Poetry presents an opportunity for people to express themselves in a different way, to find a fitting language that enables them to talk about climate change in a manner that is personable to them, one which can help them to make sense of this global problem in a very personal context, as with ‘An Earth Plea’ by Vi Nguyen:
you journey far and wide to glimpse the hidden parts of me
seeking out my waters, soils, wildlife and forests
captured in a snapshot
our harmonious existence
in glossy print
you don’t really see me
the tumultuous, destructive, broken parts of me
the suffocation of my waters, soils, wildlife and forests
clasping poisoned ground
somehow we lost each other
in this changing climate
you are part water, mineral and dirt and therefore part world
I am the air that you breathe, the food that you eat
the water that runs through your veins
we are entangled and entwined
only you hold the power to save us
Several of the poems in the book present visions of future Earths, but rather than using climate models to predict what they might look like in terms of graphs and error bars, they use words and imagery to present alternatives to what our Earth might look like if we fail to act. These images provide a very powerful tool for enabling action, and in her foreword to the book, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of Working Group 1 for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), tells us that:
“There are multiple options to act now and build a development which is more inclusive and resilient to climate change, while decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases; but this needs to happen as quickly as possible to reduce further losses and damage. Visions of futures that we do not want can help accelerate this action.”
It’s just a start, but we hope that A Change of Climate presents an opportunity for a wide audience to start thinking about how climate change affects both them and others, to acknowledge that it is real, and to take action, as this isn’t something that is simply going to disappear by hoping that it will.
I would be interested to hear how my colleagues feel about the use of poetry to communicate climate change and other geoscientific topics, so please leave your comments below the line. J