“The term ‘Nature Poetry’ will be given a very wide interpretation by the judge.” That’s the first thing you’ll read if you look up the Rialto/RSPB Nature Poetry Competition. I think it’s code for: abandon all prejudice against the words ‘nature’ and ‘poetry’ next to each other. By now we should have outgrown that. We are living in a post-post-post Wordsworth era (and anyway think of his ecstasies of mountain and lake, the walking, the crag-scrambling**, the skating).
From loss of biodiversity to climate change there isn’t a more urgent subject to write about. It’s also very challenging, to do well: how does poetry find its own space among all the other discourse, whether political, scientific or psychogeographical? One poem that moves between detail and universality is ‘The Assault on the Fields’ by Alabama-born poet Rodney Jones, which from the opening lines creates a sort of magnificence of horror:
It was like snow, if snow could blend with air and hover,
making, at first,
A rolling boil, mottling the pine thickets behind the fields,
but then flattening
As it spread above the fenceposts and the whiteface cattle,
an enormous, luminous tablet,
A shimmering, an efflorescence, through which my father
rode on his tractor,
Masked like a Martian or a god to create the cloud where
he kept vanishing;
The whole poem is here and Rodney Jones reads some shorter poems here. It’s in Wild Reckoning, a hard-to-find anthology inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, edited by Maurice Riordan and John Burnside. Another good anthology is Neil Astley’s Earth Shattering (Bloodaxe), a near-square slab of a book with interesting background and context on the authors. Another is The Ground Aslant (Shearsman) edited by Harriet Tarlo and reviewed on Displacement here, which contains a selection of contemporary British writers from Peter Riley to Helen Macdonald of H is for Hawk fame.
Closing date for the Rialto/RSPB competition is 1 March. It’s becoming an annual fixture: this one, judged by long-distance walker and bird anthology compiler Simon Armitage, is the third. You can enter here…
The state of the planet is a constant thought track at the back of the mind. Sometimes it’s good to take other action about it, however small, as some sort of compensation for writing failure.
Lots of people have been angered by Ofcom’s refusal to allow the Green Party the status of a major political party, which means that broadcasters are legally entitled to leave them out of live pre-election leadership debates. I’m also infuriated by Miliband’s refusal to address the issue (Cameron’s position that the Greens must be included if he’s to take part is preferable, however cynical the motivation). It seems counter-productive: under our broken electoral system won’t Miliband & co need to persuade Green supporters to vote Labour in marginal constituencies, to keep out the Tories?
It is actually possible to do something about Ofcom: they are running a consultation on their document containing the decision. You can respond online here. Deadline 5 February. If you feel like doing so, here are some of the arguments.
- The report places too much weight on looking back at past elections, rather than at current trends.
- Ofcom’s own figures (p36) show that support for the Greens throughout Great Britain has risen from 2% to almost 6% in the last two years
- Green Party membership is now nearly 45,000, overtaking the Lib Dems and Ukip. [This figure will soon be out of date because there’s been a 2,000-a-day membership surge in the last couple of days.]
- Over 275,000 people have signed a petition asking the major broadcasters to include the Greens in election debates.
- In the last Euro elections, the Lib Dems got 1 seat and the Greens 3.
- An ICM poll last month showed 79% of respondents supported Green inclusion.
- High numbers of young people support the Green Party. A December YouGov poll showed 25% of under 25s supporting the Greens, compared to 11% for UKIP and 6% for the Lib Dems - thus putting the Greens into third place in this age group. A YouthSight poll of students last month showed Green supporters at 24%, in second place to Labour.
- Young people are less likely to vote anyway, and we should be addressing both actual disenfranchisement and negative attitudes to political participation. Why should a quarter of under 25's bother if their preferred party is excluded from debates?
I’ve also joined the Green Party today, as part of the surge. Have been thinking about it for a while. This may be an exasperating experience. Feel free to bet on how long I’ll last.
**In pursuit of birds’ eggs…
Nor less, when spring had warmed the cultured Vale,
Moved we as plunderers where the mother-bird
Had in high places built her lodge; though mean
Our object and inglorious, yet the end
Was not ignoble. Oh! when I have hung
Above the raven's nest, by knots of grass
And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
But ill sustained, and almost (so it seemed)
Suspended by the blast that blew amain,
Shouldering the naked crag, oh, at that time
While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
Blow through my ear! the sky seemed not a sky
Of earth and with what motion moved the clouds!
Wordsworth, Prelude book one.