7. A Climate of Change?

A Change of Climate?

Over the last six months or so a large part of the world seems to have noticed that climate change is an imminent threat to our current way of life. That is, to be clear, the high consumption and wasteful life enjoyed in Europe, North America and other ‘developed’ parts, though all of us are likely to suffer if climate change happens.

Others have noticed and commented before but they have been largely ignored by media and politicians who, for various reasons, don’t want to acknowledge the threat. Yet, when  the Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, made a stand outside her parliament against climate change, and thousands of her fellow students, around the world, picked up the baton, (and they couldn’t all have been dodging ‘Double Maths’) it became more news-worthy.

This is a challenge to poets and all artists, too, but we have to tread warily. There is always the risk, of course, with poetry that if you try to push a particular line of argument it will be a bit of a turn-off, like being stuck in a pub where you have little short-term choice but to listen to the pub bore.

John Keats observed, in a letter to a friend: “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul.” I’ve always thought this was a case of mild self-deception for what poet does not use every stratagem to grab the readers’ attention and approval? Perhaps he simply meant that poetry that’s too earnest doesn’t work, one feels cajoled, it turns the audience off.

David Hart, a fine Birmingham poet, in reviewing a ‘green’ poetry anthology, 20 years ago, commented that “the best poems fit the book’s overt purpose least comfortably… And it seems to me… the poets often who seem to have been clearest in their ‘caring for the planet’ intentions have produced the weaker poems”.

And we can understand this in part when we listen to poets who gain the approval of their audience by replacing the subtleties of poetry with the slogans of the latest, and fashionable, political anxieties. Yes, we may well be anxious about the planet’s systems breaking down, but do we have to sit through another rant about our ‘guilt’ at the Dog & Duck?

I recently asked my WEA students to write something about climate change or other environmental fear and they found it very difficult. The issue of certainty came up. One might well believe the weather’s getting worse or weirder but is that ‘climate change’ or a variation in the pattern of the weather over many years? How does one grasp the impact of something so huge and complex, unless you really are a professor of meteorology, for example?

I recently had an ‘eco’ poem published on the Romanian website Crevice. I hope it doesn’t make you want to run away.

December Blues

It’s Christmas soon and in a blink
I drag the tree in from the yard;
it’s raining, dull, no time to think

but on the bank the bluest ink
of periwinkle looms in shards.
It’s Christmas soon and in a blink

I’m quite confused, but cannot wink
at Vinca minor flowering hard;
it’s raining, dull, I need to think.

So is real climate change a link,
a current fad or planet marred?
It’s Christmas soon and, in a blink,

the parties loom, the glasses clink,
but I’m not sure what’s on the cards;
it’s raining, dull, I need to think.

December blues, the sky is zinc;
we haven’t nurtured our back yards.
It’s Christmas soon and in a blink
it’s raining, dull. We need to think.

Note: According to several British floras, the lesser periwinkle,
Vinca minor, flowers from March-May, occasionally late summer.
It is commonly found on hedgebanks and in gardens.

The Crevice website, Bucharest, Romania, https://crevice.ro


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