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100 Poems to Save the Earth

Zoë Brigley
Kristian Evans
ISBN-13: 
9781781726242 
Publication Date: 
Monday, July 19, 2021
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Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Writing from rural and urban perspectives, linking issues of social injustice with the need to protect the environment, this selection of renowned contemporary poets from Britain, Ireland, America and beyond attend carefully to the new evidence, redraw the maps and, full of trust, keep going, proving that in fact, poetry is exactly what we need to save the earth. 

“This compelling suite of poems is a timely reminder to cherish, to celebrate. What could be more enjoyable than beautiful poems about this beautiful planet? This collection is immediate, moving, wise and unforgettable as it is unputdownable!” – Daljit Nagra, poet and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Extra 

“These achingly beautiful poems, from a range of stellar talents, animate and explore the sometimes-frayed connection we have with our precious planet and remind us how to refind ourselves amid the landscape we call home.”  – Sonya Huber, author of Pain Woman Takes Your Keys 

“Wales was the first country in the world to introduce a Future Generations Act. This collection of Poems to Save the Earth from a Welsh Publisher reminds us that poetry and art can also be a vital part of a sustainable future.”  – Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales 

“...it is an absolute necessity for poets to celebrate our world and engage with its future. This is a marvellous compendium to show how they are attempting this…” – Robert Minhinnick

 

Featuring 100 of the best new and established contemporary poets:

Gbenga Adesina, Kelli Russell Agodon, Sascha Akhtar, Kazim Ali, Mir Mahfuz Ali, Abeer Ameer, Simon Armitage, David Baker, Fiona  Benson, Liz Berry, Wendell Berry, Rachael Boast, Eavan Boland, Leo Boix, Sean Bonney, Marianne Boruch, Helen Bowell, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Jane Burn, John Burnside, Dom Bury, Duncan Bush, Siobhán Campbell, Vahni Capildeo, Gillian Clarke, Ross NR Cogan, Grahame Davies, Tishani Doshi, Cath Drake, Camille T Dungy, Rhian Edwards, Carrie Etter, Vievee Francis, Izzy Galleymore, Ross Gay, WS Graham, Vona Groarke, Philip Gross, Richard Gwyn, Jen Hadfield, Paul Henry, Sean Hewitt, Bob Hicok, Jane Hirshfield, Rhiannon Hooson, Jennifer Hunt, Kathleen Jamie, John Kinsella, Mimi Khalvati, Joanna Klink, Gwyneth Lewis, Gerry Loose, Jane Lovell, John McCullough, Medbh McGuckian, André Mangeot, Paula Meehan, Jennifer Militello, Kei Miller, Robert Minhinnick, David Morley, Katrina Naomi, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Caitríona O’Reilly, Alice Oswald, Craig Santos Perez, Pascale Petit, Carl Phillips, Clare Pollard, Kate Potts, Sheenagh Pugh, Sina Queyras, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Deryn Rees-Jones, Carter Revard, Roger Robinson, Erin Robinsong, Carol Rumens, Owen Sheers, Penelope Shuttle, Colin Simms, Peter Sirr, Martha Sprackland, Anne Stevenson,  Em Strang, Will Stone, Melissa Studdard, Michael Symmons Roberts, George Szirtes, Rebecca Tamás Marvin Thompson, Samuel Tongue, Ellen Van Neerven, Maggie Wang, Gwen Nell Westerman, Sam Wilson Fletcher, Jillian Weise, Jennifer Wong, Tamar Yoseloff, Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe.

 

David Baker reads his poem 'Pastoral'. Read his accompanying prompt on our blog

 

REVIEWS

Review by Judy Darley, SkyLightRain

Sunday, August 15, 2021

How could a single poem, or 1000, hope to save our world? That’s the question laid out by Seren in their latest anthology, 100 Poems to Save the Earth. In 127 pages they answer time and again – through revealing the ecstatic beauty of nature, and its perilous fragility, as expressed here by poets ranging from Simon Armitage to Sheenagh Pugh to Alice Oswald.

The anthology’s editors, Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans, state in the Introduction that “we live in a time of unprecedented crisis”, but that poetry “calls us to stay awake, to find the words to describe how it feels, to sing to what hurts, to reach out, to attend more closely and with more care, (…) to see all things as our kin.”

In Chorus, David Morley reminds us how “The swallow unmakes the Spring and names the Summer” while “The bullfinches feather-fight the birdbath into a bloodbath”. It’s a vivid reminder both of the majesty of nature, and the characteristics we’re prone to share.

Some of the poems ache with such exquisiteness that I felt a lump in my throat as I read. Carrie Etter’s Karner Blue is one such work, with its echoing refrain of “Because” drawing you in: “Because its wingspan is an inch./ Because it requires blue lupine./ Because to become blue it has to ingest the leaves of a blue plant.” And once we’ve marvel at the wonders that comprise this butterfly, the damning line is served: “Because it has declined ninety per cent in fifteen years.”

Yearning lines abound throughout, urging us into wild spaces: “I go and lie down where the wood drake/ rests in his beauty on the water” (The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry); “Stride out with your boots on, or, better still/ barefoot, and be inside the wind a while” (Water of AE, Em Strang).

Meanwhile, Isabel Galleymore’s Limpet & Drill-Tongued Whelk devotes 14 lines to seaside molluscs, describing a limpet as: “moon textured, the shape of light/ pointing through frosted glass.”

Elsewhere there are conversations with and between trees, and “redwoods veined with centuries of light” (Earth, John Burnside), while Kei Miller brings us the world’s palette in To Know Green from Green. In Sean Hewitt’s Meadow, loss of a loved one tangles in with “the beehive’s sultry/ murmur” as the poet watches “each floret and petal/ inscribe life in its colour.”

Nature in this context offers both consolation and affirmation.

The anthology contains countless lines of awe regarding our wild neighbours, from fungus to octopus, woven in with notes of foreboding. One of the most chilling for me vaults from Sina Queyras’ From ‘Endless Inter-states’: 1, in which the narrator offers “coffee, hot while there is still/ coffee this far north, while there is still news/ to wake up to, and seasons”.

There’s humour too, as in Rhian Edwards’ The Gulls are Mugging and Samuel Tongue’s Fish Counter, which offers “Wise lumps of raw tuna”, “Fish fingers mashed from fragments of once-fish”, and “Hake three-ways”, before delivering the warning: “Choose before the ice melts.”

Near the end, in Dom Bury’s Threshold, we uncover the urgency beneath these poems – these declarations of love, of alarm, of sadness amid beauty, as the poet shares the realisation “That we have to be taken to the edge of death/ to choose, as one, how we live.”

A thought-provoking, at times disconcerting, occasionally heartbreaking, but more often veneration-inspiring hoard of nature-observations, this anthology speaks the message we all need to hear: we must do more than just notice nature to save it and ourselves, but noticing is a good first step.

Review by Jon Gower, Nation Cymru

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The appearance of this poetry curation could hardly be more timely given the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which sounded a clear ‘code red’ for climate catastrophe, even as enormous swathes of California and Siberia were swept by wildfires while tourists ploshed through a flooded St Mark’s Square in Venice. The editors anticipate that obvious question – how can poetry save the world? – in their introduction.  Here they suggest that poetry can

call us to stay awake, to find the words to describe how it feels, to sing to what hurts, to reach out, to attend more closely and with more care, to each other, and to all ourt fellow species, to see all things as our kin.

That close attention and care is abundant in its pages.  In one of the opening poems ‘A Portable Paradise’ by Robert Robinson he describes a treasure, handed on to him collaterally by his grandmother. The poet doesn’t give us its dimensions, or tell us what it is exactly but he does share his gran’s advice that he should keep it on his person lest it be stolen. Then, should the stresses of life prove to be too much

Get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,

            hostel or hovel – find a lamp

            and empty your paradise onto a desk;

            your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.

            shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope

            of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.

The two editors have carefully and judiciously drawn on a wide range of poets from around the world – including a fair smattering of Welsh poets such as Paul Henry, Deryn Rees-Jones, Richard Gwyn, Rhian Edwards, Owen Sheers and Grahame Davies.  The works often link thematically, echoing each other, braiding in meaning, theme or in message. So we have a number of poems celebrating watercourses such as rivers and lakes, or ones about weeds such as knotweed and couch grass, which, let’s face it, are very seldom celebrated in verse. Even some of the other plants, such as the medicinal mugwort don’t get as much attention as, say roses and lillies. Yet Robert Minhinnick is a definite and attentive celebrant of its qualities, as ‘The Magician’ in his poem lists the plant’s healing qualities, from the gold dust of its pollen to its aroma, which is preferable to ‘wormwood and the silver salvias/Though savory I suppose must run it close.’

Celebration

That sense of attentive celebration is present in a few of the poems here presented, from David Morley’s ‘Chorus’ which runs as a ticker-tape list of the dawn chorus’s constituent voices, from the swallow which ‘unmakes the Spring and names the Summer,’ the nuthatch which ‘nails another hatch shut’ and the rook which ‘roots into roadkill for the heart and the hardware.’ It’s a poem that ends as if the poet himself is running out of words:

The dawn is completely composed. The pens of its beaks are dry

            Day will never sound the same, nor night know which song wakes her.

The wonders and complexities of the natural world recur throughout the collection, from Bob Hicok’s ‘Lush’ which examines the ways trees communicate ‘through roots that braid’ to Wendell Berry, who escapes despair for the world by ‘lying down where the wood drake/rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.’ But this is not a romantic or pastoral assemblage – there are poems about the indestructibility of plastic and about screaming fighter bombers turning houses into flour dust. Others, such as Paula Meehan’s ‘Death of a Field’ chart that which is lost when property developers buy some land, with the ‘end of hidey holes,’ the loss of the magpies’ sound of ‘flying castanets’ and the disappearance of its flora, the yearning yarrow and the scarlet pimpernel not to mention the ‘woodpigeons in the willow’ and the wagtail in the elder which sings its ‘hungry summer song.’

Meanwhile John Burnside’s respectful ‘Earth’ commemorates eco-activists such as David “Gypsy” Chain, who was killed in 1998 while protesting the clearcutting of Californian Redwoods as he ‘trusted to the earth/the heart he had kept intact…’ And in one of the most restorative and uplifting poems, Camille T. Dungy’s ‘Trophic Cascade’ there is a bountiful account of re-wilding and what happened in Yellowstone when they reintroduced the grey wolf.  This led to trees growing up ‘beyond the deer stunt/of the midcentury’ and with that the return of underbrush which ‘warrened snowshoe hare’ and soon the place, and thus the poem is full of songbirds, muskrats and American dippers while abundant berries bring in the bears.

There are many poems here which lodge like limpets in the mind. One such is American poet Ross Gay’s ‘A Small Needful Fact’ which concerns Eric Garner, who died in New York City in 1994 as a result of being placed in a police chokehold.  Eric Garner, the poem tells us, worked for some time for the city’s Parks and Recreation Horticulture Department and suggests that it is therefore likely that with his hands:

he put gently into the earth

            some plants which, most likely,

            some of them, in all likelihood,        

            continue to grow, continue

            to do what such plants do, like house

            and feed small creatures,

            like being pleasant to touch and smell,

            like converting sunlight

            into food, like making it easier

            for us to breathe.

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