Books to celebrate Earth Day 2022

We’re celebrating Earth Day 2022 with a list of books that address the natural world, the climate emergency and nature in all its glory.

100 Poems to Save the Earth – Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans

100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Wild Places UK:UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites – Iolo Williams

Iolo Williams Wild Places UK UK's Top 40 Nature Sites

In Wild Places UK television naturalist Iolo Williams picks his favourite forty wildlife sites from the many nature reserves around the country. As this informative and lavishly illustrated book demonstrates, all forty places are packed with the widest variety of trees, plants, birds, animals and insects. Williams draws on his enormous knowledge to guide readers and visitors to the natural delights of each site. Wild Places will show them rarities like the osprey, where to find almost six hundred different species of moths, or an incredible 51 species of caddis fly. Readers will discover where to find birds, both rare and in huge numbers, where hares box and otters swim, where to spot dolphins and salmon, and where to see whales and sharks.

We Have To Leave the Earth – Carolyn Jess-Cooke

We Have to Leave the Earth Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Fierce and very beautiful - Jen Hadfield

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. The opening poem ‘now’ features a seemingly peaceful domestic scene of a family lounging at home as the starting point for meditation on history, time, mortality and the fate of the planet: I think of what tomorrow asks and what is yet/ to be done and undone, how many nows make up a life/ and what is living. There are hints of a struggle with depression stemming from a difficult childhood, inspiring Jess-Cooke to express her experiences with her child and their autism diagnosis.

Blood Rain – André Mangeot

Blood Rain Andre Mangeot A thought-provoking book for turbulent times - Matthew Caley

Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. André Mangeot’s Blood Rain opens with a deeply personal love poem (“Remember, too, our secret pool?”) that also introduces the natural world and it’s endangerment – one of several key themes in a book that addresses some of the most troubling man-made issues now facing us all.  The second poem, ‘Bellwether’, reflects this: a subtle socio-political piece, a warning in a time of populism and radicalisation. This breadth of awareness and range is part of the collection’s appeal, giving the poems an urgent topicality and depth.

Much With Body – Polly Atkin

Much With Body Polly Atkin This is series play indeed – Vahni Capildeo Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Much With Body is the startlingly original second collection by poet Polly Atkin. The beauty of the Lake District is both balm and mirror, refracting pain and also soothing it with distraction: unusual descriptions of frogs, birds, a great stag that ‘you will not see’. Much of the landscape is lakescape, giving the book a watery feel, the author’s wild swimming being just one kind of immersion. There is also a distinct link with the past in a central section of found poems taken from transcripts of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, from a period late in her life when she was often ill. In common with the works of the Wordsworths, these poems share a quality of the metaphysical sublime. Their reverence for the natural world is an uneasy awe, contingent upon knowledge of our fragility and mortality.

Waterfalls Of Stars – Roseanne Alexander

Rosanne Alexander Waterfalls of Stars My ten years on the island of Skomer

When Rosanne Alexander’s boyfriend Mike was offered the job of warden of Skomer, a small uninhabited island off the south west tip of Wales, they had just ten days to leave college, marry (a condition of employment) and gather their belongings and provisions for the trip to the island. This was the first of many challenges Rosanne and Mike faced during their ten years on the nature reserve, from coping with periods of isolation when they were the island’s only inhabitants, to dwindling food supplies during the winter when rough weather made provisioning from the mainland impossible. Thrown on their own resources they had also to deal with catastrophes like the devastation of the island’s seal colony following an oil spill.

The Shaking City – Cath Drake

The Shaking City Cath Drake A guide to staying clear-eyed, combative and caring in unsettled times. – Philip Gross

The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet is able to work a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form.

Nia – Robert Minhinnick

Nia A Novel Robert Minhinnick

Nia Vine is about to fulfil her dream of exploring an unmapped cave system. With her will go two friends who were brought up in the same seaside town.  These companions are international travellers, but Nia, who has recently become a mother, feels her experience insignificant compared with that of her friends. While the three explore, Nia finds herself obsessed by a series of dreams that finally lead to a shocking revelation. Page-turningly evocative, immersive and compelling, Robert Minhinnick has written a novel in which realism and poetry collide and mingle.

Dark Land, Dark Skies – Martin Griffiths

Dark Land, Dark Skies The Mabinogion in the Night Sky Martin Griffiths

In Dark Land, Dark Skies, astronomer Martin Griffiths subverts conventional astronomical thought by eschewing the classical naming of constellations and investigating Welsh and Celtic naming. Ancient peoples around the world placed their own myths and legends in the heavens, though these have tended to become lost behind the dominant use of classical cultural stories to name stars. In many cases it is a result of a literary culture displacing an oral culture.

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Guest Post: COP26 – Kristian Evans on poetry & the climate crisis

Today’s guest post is by Kristian Evans, co-editor of the landmark anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth – vital reading as world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26.

100 Poems to Save the Earth edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword from editors Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Leaders from the world’s governments and businesses are currently meeting in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Delegates are attempting to create a roadmap towards a zero-carbon future, to find ways to prevent the earth from warming by more than 1.5C, and to explore other technological and financial options to help us mitigate climate change.

Considering the results of previous conferences, we can be forgiven for feeling less than optimistic about this one. Surely here are the same old people, using the same old tools, trying to make the problem conform to the same old solutions they have found for it.

Einstein famously said “no problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew.”

So how does our culture see the world today? What does ‘nature’ mean to those of us in the West? What does our way of life tell us about our unconscious beliefs and attitudes to it? What might ‘seeing the world anew’ mean?

empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.

From ‘A Portable Paradise’ by Roger Robinson – 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Since the Enlightenment, it has become the custom to see nature as a machine, something inert, a predictable resource, perfectly intelligible to reason. Animals are considered to be little more than complicated robots – it’s ok to test cosmetics, drugs and ammunition on them. Nature can be dominated, controlled and tamed. There is nothing truly strange or mysterious out there, certainly no ghost haunting the moving the parts.

We find these beliefs reflected in our perception of human life: consciousness is only a brain process, life has no intrinsic meaning and ends completely in death. We don’t have souls and should find fulfilment in material things, tools and toys that will, we are promised, get bigger and better year after year. Get it while you can and drink it dry, because time is running out and soon you will be gone.

At least, that’s how it used to be. That was the dream. Poets were never quite convinced by it and climate change and the ecological crisis are now ringing a very loud alarm. Blake railed against the oppression of a rationalising utilitarian mind he saw embodied in ‘the dark Satanic mills’. The Romantics, foreshadowing Freud, found plenty of evidence that the Enlightenment had a concealed dark side, that it was haunted and shaped by the superstitions it thought it had banished.

Illustration of ‘The Ancient Mariner’ by artist David Jones

Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is now often read as an ecological fable, a warning of the consequences of adopting a violent, domineering attitude to nature. Most of us will have seen images of dead Albatross chicks, their stomachs stuffed full of the bits of plastic they’ve been fed by the parent bird, the shiny junk plucked from the waves, fragments of the rubbish with which we fill our own lives. We’re all the Mariner now, it seems; every one of us has killed the Albatross.

Yet at the end of his terrifying hallucinatory voyage to the edges of the world, to the edges of himself, the Mariner does “see the world anew.” He is reconciled to a vision of nature as a complex web of relationships, beautiful and strange, everything intertwined with everything else.

Albatros chick

What if we were no longer separated and isolated, disconnected from nature and each other? We too might see a world transformed. What was once viewed as a collection of dead, inert or robotic objects, might now be experienced as a community of vibrantly alive subjects, multi-faceted aspects of a cosmos full of meaning, intelligence and imagination not confined to humans, but distributed throughout everything.

When we were editing 100 Poems to Save the Earth thoughts such as these were never far from our minds. Poets have always kept an ear open to communication from the earth, imagining what the birds and fish and fungi, the oceans and forests might say. It’s not hard to hear them. They are only saying what our own souls are saying after all. Stop. Change. Please listen.

It is as if there were some irresistible force
blowing us over into a strange new century
that billows beyond us, between our thin heart-beats.

From ‘Climate’ by George Szirtes – 100 Poems to Save the Earth

It’s time also to listen to those of us beyond the West, especially indigenous peoples, who are often on the front line of climate change and habitat and biodiversity loss, and who still hold a vision of the possibility of a meaningful existence with an intelligent world. As Ozawa Bineshi Albert of Climate Justice Alliance says, “Solutions to the climate crisis must come from those communities most directly impacted. At COP26, the orientation of the international community must come from them, not economists, corporations and politicians who created the problems in the first place. Solutions can’t be about us without us.”

The ecological crisis is transforming us, forcing us to reassess the relationship between mind and nature, forcing us to revise our cultural assumptions and beliefs about who we are, where we are going and what we want to become. COP26 might attempt technological solutions and new finance initiatives. It might be an exercise in perception management that enables business as usual. A new dark age might be closer than we realise.

Whatever happens, if we don’t jettison the old mechanistic worldview and learn to see the world anew as alive and intelligent, we will remain stuck in the old ways of thinking that got us into this crisis in the first place.

Kristian Evans

100 Poems to Save the Earth is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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David Baker reads ‘Pastoral’ from 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Friday Poem – ‘What We Found in the Arctic, or, the Geopolitics of New Natural Resources Uncovered by Melted Ice’ by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘What We Found in the Arctic, or, the Geopolitics of New Natural Resources Uncovered by Melted Ice’ by Carolyn Jess-Cooke from her new collection We Have To Leave The Earth.

This cover shows a photo of a ball of tangled fishing twine resting against a pink and blue background.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. The opening poem ‘now’ features a seemingly peaceful domestic scene of a family lounging at home as the starting point for meditation on history, time, mortality and the fate of the planet. There are hints of a struggle with depression stemming from a difficult childhood. There is a cherished child diagnosed with autism. There are two sequences: Songs for the Arctic, inspired by field work done for the Arctic at the Thought Foundation, poems that are vividly descriptive of an extreme landscape, aware of the fraught history of exploration and sensitive to the way changes in the pack ice are the most significant indicators of man-made global warming. The other sequence, The House of Rest, is a history in nine poems of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who pioneered feminist activism, and helped to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, which facilitated sexual violence in the name of disease prevention. Jess-Cooke is unafraid of dark material but is also ultimately hopeful and full of creative strategies to meet challenging times. 

What We Found in the Arctic, or, the Geopolitics of New Natural Resources Uncovered by Melted Ice
Mme and M. Dumoulin, missing since 1942
Nickel
Rubber ducks
A Russian flag pronged on the seafloor
Copper
Three Incan children, sacrificed
Anthrax
Bird fossils from the Cretaceous period
Gold
Prehistoric skis
Saami, Nenets, Khanty, Evenk, Chukchi, Aleut, Yupik, Dolgan, and Inuit
Natural Gas
1700 species of plants
Record levels of microplastics
Diamonds
A hunter from 3000 B.C.
Oil
A horse from the Iron Age, with perfectly preserved manure
Territorial claims for the Arctic Continental Shelf
Polar bears, starving
Coal
Disputations concerning territorial waters
45,000 Russian troops
3,400 Russian military vehicles
41 Russian ships
15 Russian submarines
110 Russian planes
The albedo effect, claimed by no one

We Have To Leave The Earth is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Join us online for the virtual launch of We Have To Leave The Earth on Tuesday 16th November from 7pm. Carolyn will be reading from the collection alongside guest readers Liz Berry and Jen Hadfield. Register for free via Eventbrite here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/193473353007.

Friday Poem – ‘Karner Blue’ by Carrie Etter

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Karner Blue’ by Carrie Etter which appears in 100 Poems to Save the Earth and her collection The Weather in Normal.

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

These achingly beautiful poems… remind us how to refind ourselves amid the landscape we call home.”  – Sonya Huber

The Weather in Normal Carrie Etter "Etter's richly inventive phrasing keeps this compelling range of concerns vividly opening up with immediacy, urgency and sensitivity." - Cole Swensen

Carrie Etter is known for beautifully expressive and formally inventive verse. The Weather in Normal, her fourth collection, explores the changes to her hometown of Normal, Illinois following her parents’ deaths, the sale of the family home, and the effects of climate change on Illinois’ landscape and lives.

”It’s well-nigh impossible to convey with quotation how Etter’s use of language, form, restraint and space combine to such impressive effect.” – Stride magazine

Carrie Etter
KARNER BLUE
“a place called Karner, where in some pine barrens, on lupines,
a little blue butterfly I have described and named ought to be out.”
Vladimir Nabokov
Because it used to be more populous in Illinois.
Because its wingspan is an inch.
Because it requires blue lupine.
Because to become blue, it has to ingest the leaves of a blue plant.
Because its scientific name, Lycaeides melissa samuelis, is mellifluous.
Because the female is not only blue but blue and orange and silver
and black.
Because its beauty galvanizes collectors.
Because Nabokov named it.
Because its collection is criminal.
Because it lives in black oak savannahs and pine barrens.
Because it once produced landlocked seas.
Because it has declined ninety per cent in fifteen years.
Because it is.


100 Poems to Save the Earth
 is available on the Seren website: £12.99

The Weather in Normal is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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