ONE PLANET An Anthology of Poems for Newcastle Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Alumni Day of Action 2020
INTRODUCTION ‘One Planet’ is the perfect theme for the 2020 Alumni Day of Action. It’s a poetic image (our beloved blue and green globe suspended in space), a statement of fact (yes, everything on earth is connected) and a call to action – a clear imperative: if we don’t take our responsibilities to each other, the planet and all her species into account, we will miss the deadline to keep carbon emissions down to a safe level. With the certainty of many deaths on the other side of it, this is not just powerful language – it truly is a deadline.
There are plenty of questions here, not least what do we want to leave behind for future generations? Asking questions is a sign of humility, admitting we don’t know all the answers and acknowledging the relative simplicity of our needs, the importance of home and community, which is essentially ‘one planet’ in microcosm. The Climate Crisis, Mass Extinction and related environmental and health disasters are happening on a scale it is hard for us to grasp, live with and alleviate. But if we don’t, life on earth is in mortal danger and there will be further suffering. Poems are small forms that speak loudly. Writing or reading them, we can carry lines around in our heads, hearts or pockets: One Planet becomes portable, open to inquiry and exchange, a sustainable way of living and thriving.
All the poems collected here are a source of hope. These writers understand connectedness. From all over the world but linked to Newcastle through their studies (across all disciplines), they know we live on One Planet. This is a good place to act from. Between them, the poems present different strands of a still-unfolding story. In the face of environmental loss, Nature consoles, but how can we not look in uncomprehending grief and anger as glaciers melt, forests burn and cities and oceans become choked in plastic? How not regret the failure in human imagination that stole our sense of wonder and vision, while we were seduced by endless growth and consumption?
Linda France Climate Writer in Residence Newcastle University and New Writing North September 2020
PRAYERS FOR PONT VALLEY (i) The place you called home is built on land bought from the Bishop in Fourteen Thirty-One by service of a Rose and half a pound of cumin. (ii) Your map says Happy Land was demolished in Nineteen Forty-Three, its green crofts arrested and caged by the Coal Authority. (iii) Three wind turbines on the Burnhope skyline remember Calvary. (iv) Yet, the pheasants near Pontop Pike stand their sacred ground, doing their ritual fantail dance wing-drumming the ancient burial mound. (v) Wind still runs ribbons through the grasses, clouds still tumble amethyst shadows where the peewit pours her injured song over Pont Valley till Kingdom come.
Bernadette McAloon 3
The children blew bubbles on the balcony, a happy springtime family gathering, a wondrous sight as more, more shining, iridescent bubbles full of light, yet empty, glories of perfect beauty reminded me of people floating alongside each other like circles in a Venn diagram or globes rotating in space, living for a time beautifully, even harmoniously, then disappearing with the slightest sound, no trace.
Loves the dangerous rush of trains, doesn’t understand gardens or fences, laughs at strimmers, prim borders, prefers being on the brink, upsetting order. Needs space, to feel wind lift her rags, she inherits the wild and secret places, haunt of foragers and trespassers. Named for her pink face, her tag is Fireweed. She’s spiky, strong, brings life to the abandoned, bombed and dispossessed.
A human footprint lasts longer than those bubbles. We need to worry before we go what footprints people leave on earth below, unlike those exploding bubbles leaving nothing to show.
Demonstrating power in numbers, she goes on and on. You can’t kill the spirit.
THE PROMISE OF THE WIND Often we see the wild wind blowing around, Bending the trees in the forest impulsively. When she dresses up as a storm she screams with rage, Crawling in the crevices of doors violently. Many a time the wind whistles sweetly, Cooling our summer afternoons, Pushing the sailboats gracefully Or keeping the kites hovering next to the moon. Oh greedy man stop interfering, Prevent climate change from burning our assets, Avoid the emissions that raise the sea levels, Let the wind undistracted help save the planet. The wind provides energy generously. An invaluable promise to the world she gives, That one day she will be the main source For humanity to cover all of its needs.
HOPE SPRINGS Downy skies, the despairing flap of a heron, jackdaws filling the rooves with chacking, then a piercing cry. Hand to forehead, you squint unsure â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a speck or a floater? The red kites have settled in the ghosts of chaotic nests interrupting the woods. The shape coalesces, the tilt of forked tail, size without bulk. Not shy, the bird slips into sight, brings its own spotlight, a ray of sun catching its flaming feathers. Proof that life can thrive against the grain.
A sapling grew within The dusty-coloured land, Became a crucial violin By man’s maestral hand.
Down by the river there’s a trail Of tinsel and golden baubles, Some are bobbing like apples In a muddy backwater, Held back by a fallen branch. On the bankside a black bag, Slumped against a muddy mattress, Lies dying of a gaping wound.
The shrewd conductor grinned; His lighter as baton. Guilt-free, naive spectators cheered; Creation’s show was on.
In a million years they’ll puzzle Over fragments of glitter When digging for evidence Of the last Plasticene – the Age That killed most birds and bees Before the evolution of new Litter-eating forms that could Turn the trash back into trees.
The scorching heat supplied Some melodies a few nights. A eulogy of sorts they cried By crackling all their plights. Crescendoing, stomachs churn, Mellifluous acacias burn.
When I close my eyes, again I can hear Grind of ice upon ice, and ice upon rock, The tear and the rasp; floes build up and block While the flap of the tent and the billowing wall Has the snow blowing in with each blast of the squall. It’s already midsummer on Hudson’s bleak shore But the ice is still there to frustrate and despair. But that was back then. I again close my eyes and a new scene appears. The ice is no more on Hudson’s warmed shore And the huskies howl at the setting sun Over the Bay, where no more can they run.
An epidemic? A global crisis? But there is no vaccine. Is there a cure? Mankind’s love of plastic. In our seas, in our bins – it’s all over. We just can’t get enough. Convenient. Time to find other ways. What kind of future are we creating? And what kind of present? It’s time for change. Let’s be better at this! Embrace sustainable alternatives. Let’s be intentional. Cut back even? We can work together. We can work to stop the epidemic. Before it’s just too late. Creation, care. Let’s act – the time is now.
HANCOCK’S ANIMALS None of us are where we ought to be – not this auk, racoon, lynx, beaver, fulmar, grey wolf or bison. It is not out of morbid curiosity – though I would like to know who fired the felling shot and what happened to their eyes, hearts, lungs and bellies that would have been full of flesh or grass (are they preserved in canopic jars as offerings to some other gods? Or were they left to the crows or ground for dog food?) – but because through them I’ve learned to mourn our shared losses, that each day I return to sit on this bench or walk amongst them, reading the given names: Canis lupis, Fulmar glacialis, Castor canadensis, Sturnus vulgaris, Panthera tigris. I carry this language strange on my tongue and wear their death-pelts. And when I come home and beg you to make love to me (your words, not mine) – what I really want is to have these furs and feathers taken off my shoulders; the hooves, beaks, claws and horns removed from my side; have all use of language stripped from my mouth. Help me forget the red deer fawn and the Ovis aries taken from their mothers by joining me in this one act of creation.
Kris Johnson 10
WHAT WE DO TO FORGET
Unseason’l spring has stirred the bulbs from sleep and into warming soils young roots explore. A new year’s shoots above the surface peep, and songbirds greet the sun with song once more. As gard’ners open sheds and unwrap tools, they start to think of longer days and dream of victories in cricket, sculls and boules, of summer days, of strawberries and cream. Yet then before the cricket bat is oiled, the winter that we thought to miss blows in: such bitterness that spring’s best plans lay spoiled, and frozen flowers must afresh begin. Newcastle dons with SAGE advice just might show right from wrong and see wrong seasons right.
We call it our bucket list although the contentment of spades on beaches is long forgotten. We spread out across the world, capturing sunsets, hooking onto the laughter of brown children, consigning memories of temples with the bazaar bargains in our giant wheeled suitcases. Such big buckets, which we hoist to parties, unpacking our experiences like pieces of KFC chicken. Once we’ve licked our fingers clean of grease and salt there’s nothing left. Nothing in the hen house, nothing in the bucket except a few chewed bits of bone.
O Creator of Earth, How I long to witness Thy beauty, The beautiful sunrise and sunset, The green pasture and river. I could hear the birds chirping, I could sniff the lavender, I could taste the sweet nectar. Thy Creation touches my heart. Far from where I reside, The icebergs melt and the sea level rises, The penguins and otters lost their homes. They have lost their parents and siblings. Near to where I live Tons of unrecycled bottles Float in the polluted sea. Do we still care for Your love, Or do we just shut the door on Your unceasing kindness? Forgive us, O Creator of Earth, That we fail to restore Thy mercy. Will the world take another chance And imagine a better tomorrow?
Siew Li Chin
VANITY OF MAN With Apologies to Andrew Marvell How foolish men themselves exert To do the natural world some hurt Unceasing labour to attain A prize that in the end is vain. While all of nature to us shows The simple path to what it knows We men are blinded by our greed To splice and mix a tiny seed. Abundant our inheritance To make it better our pretence. The curious peach and nectarine Combine and thus become obscene. The iridescent water drops Spray wildly on mutated crops. Proud Man with his awakened stare Is heedless of his proper share. To grab life thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not yours to take Does bring destruction in its wake. We hasten to become extinct While time itself has barely winked. Each creature follows its own rhyme In this created world of time.
JUNCTION 66 Gabriel’s ancestor imposes on the landscape – a soldier on the Roman Road which leads me to King’s Gate. A wilful tenant of the A1’s neighbouring meadow where its celestial body was committed to the ground: ashes to ashes, rust to rust. Beneath her stage lies crude soil, churned up and congested with 600 tonnes of concrete. Heaven and earth sown together irrevocably in this act, a shared history cultivated, and nature’s edification passed on with sermons in steel. Here she stands – Martyr of Industrialisation – hewer of our collective conscience at the coalface long sunken below. It’s grim, they say, up North, but not today – and not tomorrow either. She is England’s Eden, an enduring fossil, resisting excavation from Modernity’s relentless attrition. Abrasive ‘monstrosity’, allied mother, steward of the earth, she nurtures the North’s landscape and our evolving hope for the future; a seraphic symbol of progress cracking out of the traffic’s ebon smog. Through her omniscience, we inherit Arcadia.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF TEENAGERS came challenges to powerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s misspoke lies / songs and speeches / incisive unbeguiled / resilient and resistant / for Thunberg and her peers / earth came first / they held no truck with corporate interests ~ jaded politicians ~ corrupt cronyism ~ poor science / teens faced climate-change deniers head on / stared clear-sighted into jaundiced eyes / pierced carapaces / slaughtered adult apathy / stirred us at last to waken / to realise / to rise / at one minute to midnight
Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon
FUTURE? The air we breathe, the waste we leave, the cars we drive, while we’re alive; the foods we eat, the summer heat, the oceans blue, their beaches too; the sprawling fields and water wheels are all just parts of all we are here on our rock beneath our star. Don’t take for granted that it’s all for free, for if it dies what will we be? A species here alone in space? in tin cans where we’ll spend dour days? remembering all the things we had before we made it all turn bad?
LISTEN, THE EARTH IS CRYING Listen, the earth is crying. And we still rob its tree, suck it hard while it’s free. Listen, the earth is crying. Animals can’t breathe as our plastics swallowed in, yet we still don’t care about lives gone for nothing. Listen, the earth is dying. Would you just watch and sit? Don’t you say that you’re educated? Often we forget how lucky we are to live in this planet. From the sky to the land and water, these all are the gifts we should look after. Listen, the earth is asking. For us not to be greedy, but rather act responsibly. Don’t let the future generations pay the price. Take part, and let’s be wise.
Livia Stella Putradjaja
OUR CHOKING WORLD We love versatile plastic for clothes, containers, non-stick pans and a multitude of other uses like polytunnels and parcel packaging.
THE FIFTH SEASON When itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s so far past midnight The hands of the doomsday clock
This ever-lasting substance gets wrapped round whales, sharks, turtles, seals, otters and smaller mariners, killing them all.
Have fallen off. When the fifth season, the season that is final And forever, warms and winters the worn out Earth
Broken down, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in the grain of beaches and in the fish flesh we eat.
We will stand in the sand and glass of the broken Timepiece and ask it to flow.
Fossil fuels and petrochemicals ease our lives, pollute the environment and infiltrate the food we eat.
Back in the day, when I was wee, I read in Look & Learn, Some scientist had shown some graphs, not sure exactly when, It was a vague statistical trend, not a fast or cardinal rule, But the data indicated the earth’s temperature will cool. To this my childish brain delights and so expands Imagining ice sheets extend their glacial hands. I think those days that Britain, self-confident in her stance, Truly would have welcomed a land-bridge o’er to France. My joyous imaginings were sweet but also short. It’s clear even way back when, the Earth is getting hot, Not back to days of snow and ice, but a million years before, Without Man, Earth’s warm and soggy with an angry molten core. These swamps make conditions perfect, Mother Nature knows it best, To re-form hydrocarbons Man has stolen from her breast. And for our selfish actions, we’re put on the naughty step To pause, reflect and make amends, till we’ve repaid the debt To our fellow living creatures and to the Earth we all belong, ‘Treat them as your siblings, play nice and get along’. You’ve lived your life with ‘greed is good’, that convenient 80’s trope, But when you treat the world as One, it’s then you’ll live with hope.
LOOK AFTER EARTH Listen to scientists. Offer help to those in need. Open yourself to new experiences. Kindness costs nothing. Allow yourself time to breathe. Follow your dreams. Take time to appreciate whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s around us. Eat local produce. Reuse then recycle. Educate yourself on issues facing the world. Advocate for those who are not able to help themselves. Read; learn about other cultures. Treat yourself kindly. Have respect for our planet. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s precious and irreplaceable.
A piece of plastic, a fallen tree Our blue and green marble ready to shatter Cool ripples on an open ocean pulsing through our veins, the beating heart of life. With bushfires and conflict and corona, everything suddenly became too much. Littered with little moments bringing highlights to each day, Better to light one candle than curse the darkness. Busy roads, bustling streets, Consuming, moving, eating, working, sleeping, repeating. No touching. In swans and lakes and silent roads, nature thrives. The human heart can rarely feel. Documentaries and disaster, the stats speak for themselves, As each fragmented human struggles to make sense of it all. Media infernos, distant cries. Our silence is deafening. Petitions and posters and people pledging, Wishing for days that must only get better. Messages clear as cloudy lemonade, inconceivable people and irrational decisions And a resounding inability to do a thing when our only earth is on fire. Dotted like stars, we unite in constellation, a million miles apart but never more together. With damaged dreams and forgotten plans, we seek an answer, High above the clouds, the sky, the streets and life itself, to protect the last Flickering crystal of our being.
SILENCE ON THE SAND The watcher wonders if the crescent moon will send a beam on waders whose decline is causing grave concern. Who knows how soon the curlew’s bill of boomerang design will fail to cast its mesmerising skirl on waters rippled by the north wind’s whine? Monks crossed to Lindisfarne: their letters swirl on vellum sheets, each word inscribed with care. Years later Bewick’s curlew would unfurl its inky feathers on a page, and stare at those who marvelled at the maker’s hand. The watcher’s dreams return in empty air; but as the causeway reunites the land, a whistle ricochets across the sand.
Caroline Gill (née Dudley-Smith)
TO A COAL-FIRED POWER STATION Daily, you wake up to fire up the furnace to burn and to steam for us, who believe but hardly dare show it – praying in private as we blush into mirrors, drying our hair with your breath from our sockets, speaking on phones, you listening in and watching through eyes of the filaments. You are always there, the church no one visits.
In a dream I had, we queued outside, and when you began to throw up the smoke we came in to give our confessions by throwing ourselves onto the flames as renewable biomass. I woke up sweating before you recast our flesh in the form of yourself and installed on our mantelpieces shrines we could never ignore.
They’d rather scorn your hard appearance. A brutal eyesore. A functional ruin. Pamphlets are written and passed on the campus. Speeches given on high streets, in halls. Some, camped on the slagheaps, protest. They want to see your cooling towers fold inwards and crumble into sinkholes. When the picture’s big enough, Parliament speaks.
On clear days I’ve taken your portrait, your majestically rising staircase of steam, and shared it online to a hundred likes. When you are gone, like the mines we have flooded, when you are only a pile of rubble, we’ll fondly remember the look that you gave, colossally Roman; a wound in the earth scabbed-over and cut off to keep the country lit.
In Yorkshire, I can see you for miles, you concrete pig, fattened on coal, on your back kicking your stubby trotters. If you were suddenly granted life, would you rise to level Northumberland wind farms, to trample the fields of solar panels so fiercely the Earth would tremble, to bring nuclear meltdown across the meadows?
Your plume seeps like a net catching towns your shadow can never leave. You haunt them like an oil spill. And once we have sacked and pillaged the temple, stripped it of assets and sold off the plot, there’ll be something of you left in the soil. Plague ground we cannot forget; the price we paid for our world with the world’s blood.
A CURE FOR BLINDNESS
All of my homes have been tents pitched on this one’s ancient grounds: a patch of grass keeps the place where my feet fell before they flew. Among the leggy roses are the lost balls and cats and fag-ends of a played-out childhood. My father’s sharp edges and hammers are locked away without a key. He and my mother are in their seventies watching my son begin to pull himself up on their furniture.
Only when they’re empty and raw do you discover the cure for blindness is in your hands. In each open palm, an eye, seeing what needs to be given – a loaf, a lift, some folded notes, shadowplay of touch. When what you own and know and love, all that keeps you safe, is what’s asked, your fingers threaten to break
From the garden I can see the room I had – the solid desk by the window where its airy reflection lodged in a tree. Often my mother looked up from her mowing to imagine my room perhaps: now it is my son’s occasional nursery and still full of my stuff. In a corner of the garden, my husband wrestles down ivy in our own back yard – trying to shore up the little walls around our family.
with the whole earth’s weight, bones brittle with seeing all the holding this blind world needs, every ounce of letting go. But the eyes in your palms never blink – shed small pearls of water to rinse your unbound hands.
Linda France 24
With thanks to the poets:
Livia Stella Putradjaja
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon
Siew Li Chin