Friday 29 June 2012

Fiesta Time (11): Forget the Skylark ... All Poets Aboard the #twittercopter!

Not actually the
but a helicopter nonetheless (this one is at Tretower, home of the Vaughan family, so poetic connections ...)
I believe Twittercopter Poetry was launched yesterday by Sally Evans, editor of Poetry Scotland, as a means of feeling more involved in the Parnassus activities for those of us who don't live in London. The idea is that you paste the url link to one of your online poems into a Tweet (and Twitter will automatically shorten it). Be sure to include the following tags ... 
(a) #twittercopter 
(b) #Parnassus 
And then you send the Tweet out into the Twittersphere (or should that be the Twittosphere?) for all to enjoy, rather as if your poem was being cast adrift from the London helicopter. 
Then, when you are on Twitter, do look up #twittercopter to enjoy the Twittercoptered poems on display. I hope you may care to join in ... and encourage other Poetweeters by spreading the word on Facebook etc.
I was only reading Simon Armitage's account of the colossal Poetry Parnassus plans yesterday in the Poetry Society's journal, Poetry Review. I began to realise just how large a project it has all been, so it is particularly good to feel that those of us who cannot be in London, can still enjoy a poetic journey with this innovative, virtual and sustainable skyrider, the  #twittercopter! 
Ensure your poem is on board!

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Fiesta Time (10): IpArt Festival at Arlington's with Heidi Williamson

Heidi Williamson

We had a terrific evening at Arlington's in Ipswich last night at the IpArt PoetryFest. Poet-in-residence, Heidi Williamson, read from her Bloodaxe collection, Electric Shadow. She also shared some new work with us and treated us to a highly polished, enjoyable and informative reading. Thanks are due to the organisers, Fred Ellis of PoetryAnglia and Doug Coombes of Ipswich Community Radio.

Fred Ellis at the microphone ...
David (Gill) reading his poem, 'What did Hadrian Say?' ...
There was plenty of time for poetry chat!
I read my poem, 'Moonshine', about the Snowy Owl that landed in Zennor in Cornwall in 2009. I read this poem for the first time at the Swansea International Poetry Festival in 2011. It has just been published in the current edition of Poetry Cornwall | Barhonyeth Kernow (ed. Les Merton). 

Thursday 21 June 2012

Ars Poetica (4): Nature and Ecopoetry ... Our 21-Word Responses

Some days ago I invited those who read my blog or Facebook page to join me in penning a sentence (or so), defining the difference between nature poetry and ecopoetry, in not more than 21 words. What follows are the responses I received from friends on both sides of the Atlantic, and a bit of commentary from me. I hope something may strike a chord! 
(Re)connection ...
 Nature poetry extols the beauty and splendor of the natural world without sending a warning that it is being ruinously exploited.
I teach a creative writing class devoted to environmental writing versus nature writing! I'll try and think of a neat 21-word definition ... I think in general that you need to be careful with poetry that is trying to deliver a message: too much focus on the message and it becomes a political rant rather than poetry. Having said that, I read so much poetry these days that seems to not really have anything to say that sometimes it's quite refreshing to find an overtly political poem.

What is Nature?
I liked the six year old’s simple answer to that huge question: 
“Grass and insects.”
Beyond, it gets too romantic.

Poetry is thoughts in words, not necessarily political, making a point, or angry, but always personal, passionate and always emotionally touching.
Rose Kelland, England, UK

Nature poetry is not didactic per se.
P. Mc Daid (via Facebook)

I think nature poetry is where one takes time to spend in their natural surroundings recording their sightings, etc... and eco poetry asks one to look at nature from a green perspective and identify a way of change, possibly. 
Naquillity, USA  
Ecopoetry pushes us beyond our normal landscapes to a world in which our relationship with the universe affords possibilities for change.
Caroline Gill, England, UK


My thanks to all who sent in their thoughts ... and also to those who read the post and began to think, without formulating a specific statement. Belva's answer takes me right back to Wordsworth and the way in which he claimed that his times of engagement with the natural world were later 'recollected' at an emotional level 'in tranquillity'. There are those these days who find or make little time to 'stand and stare' (or as Naquillity expresses it, to 'take time'), preferring instead to write 'in the raw' and to depict the natural world 'red in tooth and claw'. Interestingly. this second expression, employed by Tennyson in his poem, In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850, originally referred to the nature of human beings, despite the fact that the phrase 'tooth and claw' was in circulation as early as 1837 as a description of wild (animal) nature. 

Those who read my blog posts will know that I struggle with politics, but since this word appears in the statements from both Juliet and Rose, I feel I must make some reference to it! I think we are all pretty much agreed that the poems that work best (in our opinion) as poems tend to be those that allow the reader to feel that he or she is left with the lingering thought along the lines of 'yes ... and if only I had been able to express that nuance/position/thought/point of view myself'. There may also be poems that cause us to shout a resounding 'No!', but we may actually admire the quality of the work, even if we find ourselves in definite disagreement with the sentiment. 

Shelley famously hailed his fellow poets as the 'unacknowledged legislators of the world', but I fear that this may be at best a sweeping statement in our current climate. Speaking personally, the closest I have (probably) come to writing political poems has been when I have touched upon subjects that stir strong negative emotions in me, such as those triggered (sorry!) by the atrocities of war or by unhelpful portrayals of disability. The former example brings me back, of course, to Wilfred Owen and his much cited dictum, 'all a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poet must be truthful.' 

Speaking of 'truth', I am taken back to a favourite childhood collection that included two very different poems by William Blake, namely 'The Lamb' and 'The Tyger'. And yet, of course, Blake's poems of Innocence and Experience were probably two sides of the same coin. This brings me to the delightful and pertinent response from Kay

It is my personal opinion that Nature poems have - and always will have - their place alongside other types of poetry. However, I feel Kay is right to hint at a line somewhere between the bounds of sentimentality or romance and that fresh vision of the world that we can sometimes see or appreciate in work that exudes a fresh childlike (but never childish) vision of the world around us. I'm sure, if we are honest, most of us can name a couple of favourite 'nature' poems that have little to do with saving the whale (important as that may be!) or picking up litter. P. Mc Daid feels that poems of this type are 'not didactic, per se', which is an interesting observation, and not one the ancient Greeks would have taken to readily, as for them the poet (or playwright) was 'teacher'. By the same token I would be astonished if any of our favourite choices were pastorals in which shepherdesses skip lightly through an Arcadian landscape.

But the story doesn't end there. Poetry - or some poetry - has been a vehicle for change for a very long time. Only last month I read a lively section from the Frog Chorus by Aristophanes at our local Poetry Cafe. You can read a summary of the plot here

So, zooming forward in time, where do we go from here? Perhaps we need to read more broadly. I suggested that contributors to this topic might like to share the title of a favourite nature poetry/ecopoetry volume, and a few suggestions have been made by Juliet, so thank you for these. 

Juliet recommends Earth Shattering, edited by Neil Astley. 'A wonderful anthology of eco-poetry and nature poetry'. Juliet also recommends the following poets (among others): -
A short selection of my own recommendations - in no particular order - would include:
I have purposely not divided the list above into 'nature poetry' and 'ecopoetry' because the boundaries are blurred in some cases, and it goes without saying that when Edward Thomas was writing, the term ecopoetry had not been coined! 

Many would say that the concept of ecopoetry really began to take shape in the years leading up to the turn of the Millennium, initially in the work of UK writer, Jonathan Bates, and in the writing of the American, Gary Snyder.

And finally, some weblinks that seem helpful to me ...
I would like to express my sincere thanks to all who participated in this post. I take a personal interest in ecopoetry, but am certainly no eco-expert. I wear my L-plate on my sleeve, but am keen to learn and share! 


P.S. This post has made me realise that I would like to do a follow-up at some point on favourite prose books that have had an impact on our own nature poetry or ecopoetry writing ... Please watch this space. Meanwhile, you might like to contribute to the WWF's Earth Book project here

Monday 11 June 2012

Ars Poetica (3): Nature Poetry and Ecopoetry 21-Word Challenge

UPDATE, 14 June 2012 ... thank you very much for your comments. I will post those received here on 21 June.

Footprints ...

When it comes to writing poetry, I sometimes catch myself wondering about the very nature of 'nature' (see here). I am fascinated by those who feel that poetry exists for its own sake and by those who feel that poetry often works best as the vehicle for a message e.g. an environmental warning. I find myself pondering the following question, often in relation to a particular poem ...

What precisely is the difference between Nature Poetry and Ecopoetry? 

This is the stuff of lengthy theses, but I thought it might be a useful exercise for those of us who are interested to try to whittle our responses down to a slimline 21 words.

Why 21? Well, it will allow a little more scope than the average Anglicised Haiku. 21 is a Fibonacci number and therefore a 'building block', if you like, for the natural world.

This is not a competition: there are no prizes (sorry!). Your answer should not be on a postcard. It does not need to be in the form of a poem. I just thought it would provide a snapshot of interest on a subject that concerns many of us who write: I would value your responses.

If you feel like joining in, please leave your 21 words in my Comments box below or email them to me ... and I will endeavour to post all those that seem helpful and pertinent on 21 June 2012.

I much look forward to seeing our answers!  

P.S. An optional extra would be to post the title of the first book (just the first, please) that really got you thinking about the natural world in relation to ecopoetry. We can then share these with other readers.

Friday 8 June 2012

International Echoes (18): Emma Lazarus, The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty, 'The New Colossus'

I often keep an eye open for Carol Rumen's 'Poem of the Week' as her choices are often fascinating and slightly off the beaten track.

The latest poem to fall under the spotlight, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, is no exception. It is a sonnet that has been with me since January when I visited New York for the first time.

The harbour area around the statue is steeped in history, for it was the first point of contact for those who arrived by sea as immigrants from Europe. The towering Statue of Liberty would have greeted them as they moved on to land at Ellis Island for 'processing'. Those who were well and fit for work moved on swiftly to the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, where they caught their trains to the places that would soon become 'home'.

Ellis Island, in particular, was a fascinating, if at times heart-rending, outpost to visit. The huge institutional walls echo with the sound of multicultural stories. The exhibitions were first rate rate, and we greatly enjoyed an afternoon in the American Family Immigration History Center, tracing one of my Scottish-Australian ancestors who would have passed through New York before I was born, en route for Britain.

Friday 1 June 2012

International Echoes (17): Rain Water 俳句

I have a 俳句 Haiku here in the current 'Rain Water' edition of the Asahi Haikuist Network (ed. David McMurray) on The Asahi Shimbun newsite from Japan.