Monthly Archives: November 2012

A subtle form of activism

“Ecopoetry is a subtle form of activism. Poetry is not perhaps the most obvious means of reaching a wide audience in the twenty-first century. But it is a vital form which retains health even in its contemporary marginality.  And this is what makes poetry so crucial, being one of the few forms it is difficult to make conform to corporate utility, its fundamental features acknowledging complexity and the difficulty of expression, rather than endorsing simplicity, instant apprehension, the superficially clear yet disposable soundbite. Poetry’s notorious instability of meaning, its protean shifting, its rhythmic soundings, resist swift dismissal. Poetry is a terrestrial channel in a digital age, grounded and grounding, set firmly in the soil of the real.”

Dr. David Borthwick, University of Glasgow
From the Introduction to Entanglements: new ecopoetry (Two Ravens Press, 2012)


The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (Plenary)


We might consider this:
balloons of sulphur –

about the size of basket
blimps tethered

at fairs – balloons of burning
particles sent into

the stratosphere – or even
this: fixed artillery

firing sulphur from
the surface – I’m deadly

serious – sulphur to reflect
the sunlight, to cool

the climate, to give us time.
We could even try it

with a trillion
wisp-thin mirrors.

Or we might want
to start a nuclear winter –

we’d do this by releasing
particles of soot –

this is actually the cheaper
option, and less messy.

You don’t believe me.
Well I’m deadly serious –

this is where we are.
This we must consider.





The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (Six)


Know the oceans
are being altered.
The nature of the seafloor
will change:
calcium carbonate
dissolved to darker clays.

Change in sea water pH caused by human created CO2 between the 1700s and the 1990s, from the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project and the World Ocean Atlas

The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (Five)


worked ground
worked ground                       engineered excavation
worked ground                       engineered excavation                       canal cutting
worked ground                       engineered excavation                       artificial pond/lake
worked ground                       engineered excavation                       rail cutting
worked ground                       engineered excavation                       road cutting
worked ground                       mineral extraction
worked ground                       mineral extraction                          quarry (hard rock)
worked ground                       mineral extraction                          pit (superficial deposits)
made ground
made ground                           engineered embankment                     flood defence embankment
made ground                           engineered embankment                     rail embankment
made ground                           engineered embankment                     road embankment
made ground                           engineered embankment                     reservoir embankment
made ground                           engineered embankment                     screen embankment
made ground                           waste tip                                 mine waste tip (colliery)
infilled ground (undivided): worked ground (undivided) and made ground (undivided)
infilled ground: worked ground (undivided) filled by mine waste tip (colliery)
infilled ground: pit (superficial deposit) filled by made ground (undivided)
infilled ground: pit (superficial deposit) filled by mine waste tip (colliery)
landscaped ground
landscaped ground                  landscaping for site formation
landscaped ground                  landscaping for recreational purposes

The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (Four)

It’s as simple as sediment flux:
what we’ve moved from land into the water.

In 1855 the levees broke along the Yellow River.
Now it’s eighty feet above the floodplain.

As much earth and stone as used to make
the Great Wall of China has been displaced

for Hong Kong Island Airport.
Think about the movement of water around the earth.

Let’s cover the basics: deforestation, fallow lands,
tilling, terracing, irrigation systems, subsurface

water extraction, mining, transportation systems,
waterway re-plumbing, reservoir interception,

groynes, jetties, seawalls, breakwaters, harbours,
warfare that magnifies many of the above

for a duration that extends beyond the period
of combat, dissipation in the frozen north.

I’m afraid it’s too soon to tell the impact
of sea-floor trawling on the continental shelf.

The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (Three)

Here we have a map of Swanscombe, east of London. Highlighted is the legacy of mineral extraction, infrastructure development and waste management. The blue areas show infilled ground – landfill sites, sand and gravel pits. Red is worked ground.  You can see the Swanscombe Chalk Pit here. When it closed in 2008 it had provided 100 million tonnes of chalk to the Northfleet and Swanscombe cement plants.  There are also the motorway and railway cuttings.  Bottom right is the cutting for the channel tunnel, opened in 2003.  Near the Thames – the green area – all that is made ground, embanked and raised. It’s actually mostly fields now, with new houses, and the odd industrial estate and freight harbour. Ignore the grey areas.

The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (Two)

For me, it dates back to farming,
the first forest clearances by fire,
smoothing out the land we re-named fields.
Tillage, shifting cultivations.
Knowledge of crops and the intricate seasons.

Survivalists, stewards of the biosphere,
from nothing we grew. Slowly learned
to tame the kyne, surrounded our homes
with loose thickets of breeding-pens.
Walked behind manure’s bright stink

as we thought of what to plant
and for how long. Doused the soil.
Moved and changed it.
Barren swathes that would not root
until we cropped, re-cropped, dammed rivers,

sliced channels, thought of ourselves –
and where was the harm in that? –
as the mighty river’s arteries flowed past.

The Anthropocene: Seven Abstracts from a Conference (One)

I have written a sequence inspired by the abstracts from the conference The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time? held at the Geological Society in May 2011. I’ll post them up here over the next week.  There’s a highly recommended introduction to the Anthropocene on the BBC here, with links to a new World Service programme, which I also recommend.

Coal, oil, gas – let’s call these ancient,
rather than contemporary, sunshine.

Sunshine we sought with our intelligence
and drive: genies hidden in the earth.

Fossil sunshine, animal and plant long dead.
Seeping from the ground. Exposed in cliffs.

Not the sort we knew as heat on skin,
that gave us night’s black signal to rest,

day’s light permit to move and work.
That contemporary beacon for our crops –

contemporary as in constant, modern,
as in still here. Is it possible, a soft

landing for civilisation? We were smart.
How smart do we now want to be?