Imagination and the Natural World

100 Poems to Save the Earth Book Cover

I just came away from giving a talk with my co-editor Kristian Evans on 100 Poems to Save the Earth. It was for a series on imagination and the natural world for the Open University. We were asking questions like, how do contemporary writers concerned about climate change begin to address this subject? Can imaginative writing create new ways of relating to the natural world? What is the role of metaphor, symbol or experimental strategies in this? And can writing help develop habits of attention which lead to fresh perceptions? We were asked to consider whether climate writing itself is intrinsically an act of political dissent at the present moment.

We talked about ecological justice – how social problems can lead to also addressing ecological issues: the problem behind the problem. We presented readings from the book and a discussion of how these intense moments of experience distilled in poetry offer us stories that might help us to act in a time of climate crisis. We wanted to begin with the suggestion that storytelling at a time of climate crisis could not be more important. If you trace the origins of the word story back through Latin and Greek, you’ll finally come to the word histor, meaning wise (hu)man. And isn’t that part of telling stories – to try out different scenarios, to be warned of mistakes? And poetry of course is all the more intense as it represents distilled moments of experience. One thing we thought a great deal about in editing this anthology is what stories might galvanise us at a time of climate crisis. 

The kinds of stories we talked about were:

  • stories to celebrate the “more-than-human”;
  • stories of irrevocable loss;
  • stories to combat climate doomism;
  • stories to bring about a change of mindset;
  • stories that recognize that violence against people and violence against nature are connected;
  • and stories of wonder and that register how much we don’t know, how more there is still to discover.

You can find the slides from the presentation here:

The photographs are all of Kenfig Dunes, taken by Kristian Evans.

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