Tuesday 8 April 2008

Linda Gordon reviews Earth Shattering: ecopoems

Review of Earth Shattering: ecopoems, edited by Neil Astley
(Bloodaxe Books, 2007), 256 pages, £9.99
ISBN 978-1-85224-774-4. American readers can order this book from Amazon.co.uk.

This is a timely and wide-ranging anthology of poems from Bloodaxe Books. Its theme is the Earth, and our continuing and ever-deepening environmental crisis. It is not preachy, or full of negativity. The poets in this anthology say things as they are, from the heart, without flinching.

Fe years
Yu hav been fighting wars an destroying de scene
An now dat yu dying
Yu start turn Green
Benjamin Zephaniah, from ‘Me green poem’.

Earth Shattering contains an astonishing range of contributions. It includes works by significant writers from around the world, both past and present - from William Wordsworth to Ken Saro-Wiwa to Pablo Neruda to Margaret Atwood. As Neil Astley says in the book's introduction: "It is the first anthology to show the full range of ecopoetry, from the wilderness poetry of ancient China to 21st-century Native American poetry."

The book is divided into categories, making for comfortable browsing, if not necessarily comfortable reading. From the category labelled ‘Rooted in Nature’, we read:

The birds have vanished into deep skies.
A last cloud drifts away, all idleness.

Inexhaustible, this mountain and I
Gaze at each other, it alone remaining.

Li-Po, ‘Reverence-Pavilion Mountain, Sitting Alone’.

(Translation David Hinton)

And here is an excerpt from the ‘Unbalance of Nature’ category, which addresses interference with the processes of nature, and the effects of pollution:

The fish faced into the current,
Its mouth agape
Its whole head opened like a valve.
You said ’It’s diseased.’
Seamus Heaney, from ‘Augury’.

The words of each and every poet are potent - speaking out clearly on behalf of the earth and its myriad life-forms. Reading one of these poems a day is a moving experience, guaranteed to strengthen one's resolve to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. But, for me, the anthology's greatest impact lies in the sheer range and diversity of poems - giving a sense of a great and unstoppable environmental movement, with the potential to change the world.

Throughout the book, there are fascinating contextual notes and biographical details about all the poets – plus there are some carefully placed prose pieces, such as James Lovelock’s ‘What is Gaia?’ and Caroline Tisdall’s description of Joseph Beuys’ seminal Coyote performance. This greatly enriches the reading experience, makes one look again, think again - and draws one into further and deeper exploration.

Earth Shattering, with its concerted voices, takes us to that place where we know the truth of what that old Native American chief is supposed to have said: "... we are a part of the Earth, and the Earth is part of us."

Linda Gordon is an environmental artist who makes site-specific work in all parts of the world. See http://www.lindagordon.org.uk/ and http://throughstones.wordpress.com/ for more information about her work.

Review first printed in Landscape & Arts Network Journal No.43, Zen Edition. For more information go to http://www.landartnet.org

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