What is Ecopoetry?


Revenge of the Blue Fin                                                                                        Dave Cooper

 

How can today’s poets respond to the natural world without referencing the devastation that the industrial growth economy and war have inflicted on it?  What insights into new ways of relating with our planet and other species can be gained from non-Western cultures, or indeed from our own fragmented animistic tradition?  And how do today’s ecologically-minded thinkers – from fields such as ecopsychology, radical feminism and eco-anarchism – influence the way we view the natural world and the complex web of relationships that shape it?

Ecopoetry raises and explores these and other ethical questions, and encompasses both spiritual practice and political activism.  In this essay I explore four major themes that I identify in my own work and that of other ecopoets; these are (RE)CONNECTION, WITNESSING, RESISTANCE and VISIONING.  Although I’ve numbered each section, there is no intended hierarchy – and in many ways the strands merge and shape each other.  Each is a portal through which ecopoetry can be approached and developed as a practice.

I should add that this survey is by no means definitive.  Although ecopoetry finds its lineage through the Romantic tradition back to the earliest human cultures on Earth, it is a mode of expression which emerges most fully in the twentieth century.  Ecopoetry has secured its deepest roots in the U.S., probably because of the Beat movement, which has had such a powerful influence on the American cultural scene.  In the U.K. ecopoetry has been slower to emerge – not because there was none being written, but perhaps because of a wariness/rejection within the mainstream literary scene of writing that had overtly political and/or spiritual dimensions.

In recent years anthologies such as Earth Shattering edited by Neil Astley, Earth Songs, edited by Peter Abbs, and Soul of the Earth, edited by Jay Ramsay, have done much to introduce a range of ecopoetry to new readers.  Thankfully at last, with the broader political and cultural shifts at work in the second decade of the twenty-first century, ecopoetry is beginning to be recognised as an essential mode of expression both within the Green Movement and in literary circles.

1. (RE)CONNECTION

Ecopoetry arises out of the extended self, a sense of belonging to the widest community that we can imagine and experience, that of our 4.5 billion year-old home, planet Earth, and beyond, into the mysteries of our Universe.  The connected or ecological self is, as Australian rainforest activist John Seed writes, able to “think like a mountain”.  His/her consciousness arises from a place of deep communion, a Zen Buddhist awareness of the one breath that all beings share.

Thus the ecopoet understands more than the linguistic link between Mother Nature and human nature – a connection largely forgotten in Western culture, although thankfully since the 1960s, an extraordinary counter-cultural awakening to our radical interdependence with the natural world has been occurring in many minds around the world.  However, ecopoets in the modern Western tradition (in contrast to many non-Western ethnopoetic traditions) have generally been shaped by the dominant secular, materialist culture – one which treats the Earth as an inanimate resource to be endlessly exploited.  Therefore a practice of continual awareness is required to examine our prejudices and assumptions, and to prevent the kind of reductionism we have all largely grown up with, which reduces the natural world to a merely decorative aspect of our lives – an idea which I explore in my poem ‘Wallpaper’:

And there are moments that it all fades
into a background of flourishes and waves

not just the repeated patterns of branches,
the prints on water when the wind dances,

flowers whose heads function for vases,
or ornamental birds set behind bars….

Unfortunately, as we grow in our awareness of our interconnection with all beings, so too does our painful realisation of the exponential levels of destruction currently being experienced by all the planet’s ecosystems.  This information can be so overwhelming that it tends to make us want to shut down again, to numb the pain we experience.

In When the Earth Hurts, Who Responds?  Sarah A. Conn writes: “Because we experience the self as separate from the Earth, we feel either overwhelmed by or removed from what we learn about environmental deterioration; we become helpless or indifferent in the face of it, and unable to respond except with numbness and denial.”

Thus an ecopoet is required to practise relating to the suffering of all beings.  An enlarged capacity to do so is not new to poets, and has often extended beyond the human in its focus.  In her essay ‘Science and Imagination in William Blake’, Kathleen Raine examines Blake’s vision of how humans once encountered earth and all her creatures as living persons, not as lifeless objects, and laments the passing of that state.  Blake writes:

A Rock, a Cloud, a Mountain,
Were now not Vocal as in Climes of happy Eternity
Where the lamb replies to the infant voice, & the lion to the man of years
Giving them sweet instructions; where the Cloud, the River & the Field
Talk with the husbandman and Shepherd.

The contemporary American ecopoet Gary Snyder acknowledges the ancient Palaeolithic roots of poetry and song, which were indivisible, and common to earliest forms of human expression.  As a poet he sees himself as holding “the most archaic values on earth… the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of dance, the common work of the tribe.”

Our disconnection from the Earth he sees as “a problem of love; not the humanistic love of the West – but a love that extends to animals, rocks, dirt, all of it.  Without this love, we can end, even without war, with an uninhabitable place.”

Ecopoetry is thus in part a spiritual practice.  It emerges out of direct experience and knowledge of the natural world, as is amply evident in the poetry of Alice Oswald, who has worked for many years as a gardener.  In ‘Prayer’, her writing takes on a religious dimension, and has reverberations of Franciscan or Benedictine orders tending their gardens:

Here I work in the hollow of God’s hand
with Time bent round into my reach. I touch
the circle of the earth, I throw and catch
the sun and moon by turns into my mind.

However, ecopoetry does not simply require solitary time spent in rural places or in whatever ‘wilderness’ remains.  Nature is everywhere.  And despite our behaviour to the contrary, we are Nature too.  In ‘Fast Food’ William Heyen makes these poignant connections:

I sit at MacDonalds eating my fragment of forest.
The snail and slug taste good, the leaves,
the hint of termite and bat, the butterfly trans-
substantiated by steer karma, and mine.

As a rule, Gary Snyder will not write about an animal unless he has observed it, or it has featured in a dream.  The latter mode indicates that the unconscious mind plays a powerful role in our reconnection with our wild selves and the Earth.  The founder of ecopsychology, the late Theodore Roszak, wrote: “the planet’s umbilical cord links to us at the root of the unconscious mind”.  And in many aboriginal cultures dreams are regarded as important vehicles for understanding individual and collective processes.

Rose Flint, based near me in Somerset, writes powerfully out of our own fragmented animistic tradition as well as other pagan traditions, including the classical, which honour the sacred feminine, the life-giving (and destroying) principle that has been so feared and oppressed by millennia of patriarchal control.  In ‘The Source’, she gives us a vision of this oppression:

They have taken the soft birds from under her breasts,
cut the blue roots out of her veins.
They stood inconsequentially talking of meat and money
while they peeled away the skin of her arms…

Putting aside the conscious mind, the ecopoet offers him/herself as a channel through which the Earth’s voice and those of other species can be expressed.  This is an act of service, of making oneself available by temporarily forgetting the preoccupations of the supposedly separate self in order to allow something bigger to come through.

This might be what Australia’s Les Murray refers to as ‘Translations from the Natural World’ (the title of one of his collections).  In ‘Pigs’, the factory-farmed creatures communicate in a style that expresses their situation: “Us all on sore cement was we./Not warmed then with glares.  Not glutting mush/under that pole the lightning’s tied to.”  In another poem a mother Sea Lion’s voice ‘translates’ as: “My pup has become myself/yet I’m still present./My breasts have vanished./My pup has grown them on herself.”

Murray’s adroitness at conveying these non-human voices indicates something else at work besides his being a channel – that is the imagination, which has been the tool of poets throughout the ages and in all cultures; and, as the great English novelist, Lindsay Clarke argues in his extended essay Imagining Otherwise, it has its roots in the animistic vision of traditional societies.  For Clarke, “Compassion is an act of imagination”, a meditation amplified in his novel, The Water Theatre, in which the central character is a war reporter struggling to come to terms with his experiences in postcolonial Africa.

Similarly there is a strand within ecopoetry which develops Blake’s capacity for ‘mental travelling’, sometimes to unvisited foreign places (to which our globalised world nevertheless connects us), but also imagining the thoughts and feelings of future generations.  In the early 1950s, Jonathan Griffin was already registering his responses to the Earth’s devastation from his home in London.  In his poem ‘Room’ there is an interplay between an ‘individual in the choking future’ and the poem’s narrator.  The future being addresses him as: “Prodigal ancestor of us”, and sends him the curse that he should “Be now like us…. Observe my fate/I live too late.”

The injunction to observe another’s fate leads to another major theme in the work of ecopoets – that of witnessing.  In many ways this is related to the theme of (re)connection – if we cannot feel our connection with another being, how can we truly witness his/her plight?

2. WITNESSING

Living during a period which scientists are now describing as ‘The Sixth Mass Extinction’, with human activity disturbing the natural world to such an extent that the perceived normal ‘background’ rate of extinction is being vastly exceeded, it’s perhaps inevitable that we look for parallel phenomena in order to conceive of the scale on which this is occurring.  To my mind the scale of this ‘ecocide’ can only be paralleled in modern times by the eradication of Jews and other human beings by the Nazis.

Some readers may find this comparison with human genocide troubling; however, it is axiomatic that whatever we do to Mother Nature, we do to ourselves.  And there are already many poor and indigenous people, such as Africa’s Baka tribe, losing their lives and ability to survive – in the Baka’s case as their rainforest ecosystem is destroyed by logging and poaching, and with their traditional livelihood gone, as they fall prey to alcoholism.

Furthermore, a real case is currently being made by the visionary British barrister Polly Higgins, who is spearheading a campaign to have ecocide enshrined in law as a fifth international crime against peace, which would make the environmental damage caused by corporations and governments a potentially imprisonable offence.   Having attended a mock ecocide trial atLondon’s Supreme Court in September 2011, when the CEOs of two oil companies (played by actors) were convicted on two of three counts of ecocide, I’m heartened at the prospect of there being a legal mechanism by which the pursuit of profit at any cost can become consigned to history.

Meantime, in spite of the most valiant efforts of activists, it’s neoliberal capitalism as usual, often entailing a hugely destructive pursuit of natural resources, such as the Athabasca tar sands extraction in Alberta, Canada.  There thousands of hectares of virgin Boreal forest are being destroyed, with vast toxic lakes created as a by-product of this scramble for the planet’s last vestiges of oil; these so-called ‘tailing ponds’ then kill thousands of migrant Waterbirds who land on them every Summer.

In my poem ‘Climbing Out of a Dog Eat Dog World’, I refer to Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s sense that in spite of even the worst horror and suffering, there is always a meaning in one’s life.  As such I express my own sense of being alive at this time:

…. Why else would I be here
as the Planet’s heating up, if not to speak of the Holocaust
we’ve launched on this universal jewel….

In trying to come to terms with what had happened in the ghettoes and concentration camps of Europe, the Jewish-American poet Charles Reznikoff spent many hours reading the testimonies given during the Nuremberg trials to compose a distilled version which he entitled simply Holocaust.  In doing this he espoused an ‘objectivist’ stance, which sought to leave out the writer’s feelings except indirectly through the choice of subject matter; according to Reznikoff, the writer is instead “restricted almost to the testimony of a witness in court of law”, writing simply about what he sees and hears.

Whether such detachment is desirable or attainable for contemporary ecopoets is debatable; nevertheless, the practice of this poet-lawyer, who had already chronicled the human suffering and injustice of America at the turn of the century in his sequence poem, Testimony, The United States 1885-1915, points analogously to the functions of ecopoetry as a means of framing and drawing attention to issues, and of truth-telling.

Being surrounded by a vast ocean of (dis)information, with the Internet and 24/7 TV news, an important act of witnessing occurs when the ecopoet fishes out the stories that touch him/her, perhaps because they represent some aspect of the grand narratives of our age.

Generally our interest and emotion is most provoked by human stories, while our capacity for compassion may struggle to extend to animals, plants and ecosystems.  And so in framing a story through the act of writing about it, the ecopoet preserves it for others – possibly future generations, although no one can be assured of any posterity in these times of radical uncertainty.  Despite this, there is an assumption of responsibility on the part of the ecopoet, a sense that even if the story is generally lost to the great mass of undifferentiated news (or subsumed by those stories seen as more important), at least one human being has registered its significance.

‘Awake to the Kittiwakes during London Fashion Week’ is a collage poem that I created out of two newspaper stories – one about North Sea birds adversely affected by climate change, the other about super skinny fashion models – which featured side-by-side in The Guardian in September 2006.

gaunt forms,
breast-bones protruding,
they strut and posture against a fabulous cliff-edge location –

In documenting patterns of climate change, there may be a jaded quality to the poet’s act of witnessing, in that global warming trends seem largely unnoticed or disbelieved by the general public (despite the near consensus amongst the scientific community).  In ‘Another Drought Year…’, Australian ecopoet John Kinsella expresses weariness at the recurrence: “The front disdains and the white-faced heron/wears a pained expression…/There is no original thought or unique/observation, just repetition….”

Ezra Pound famously spoke of poets being “the antennae of the race”, and where ecopoets are concerned, we may function as some kind of planetary radar – even, as the American ecotheologian Thomas Berry would say, the Universe reflecting back on itself.
For Grace Paley, there is both the sense of responsibility, but also the need to attempt to transcend the limitations of gender, epitomised by the impotent warnings uttered by Cassandra:  “It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on/this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be/listened to this time.”
However, this kind of transcendence of the forces which seek to limit us (whether gender, race, class etc) is not always possible.  In the nineteenth century, John Clare responded powerfully to the process of enclosure, which was fragmenting and taking into private ownership the common land to which he and his community had had access.  However, his inability to effect any real change, given his status as a ‘peasant poet’, was perhaps at least one factor that led to his mental breakdown.  Here he vividly testifies to his experience post-enclosure of the familiar fields and surrounds of his youth:

Inclosure like a Bonaparte let not a thing remain,
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is running still,
It runs a naked brook, cold and chill.

Throughout her recent collection ‘Where the Air is Rarefied’, the Cardiff-based ecopoet Susan Richardson draws on a range of sources, including Inuit folktales, Icelandic sagas, and polar explorers’ narratives, as well as her own experiences, to document the changes occurring in the Arctic.  In the following extract, she compares the disappearance of ice to the Inuit language:

Ice
is a minority language kaniq qirihuq hiku
qirititat nilak we all speak land so who
needs hikuaqtuaq iluliaq manirak who
cares when polysyllables drip when verbs
calve when the whole pack of paragraphs
fractures and cracks nilaktaqtuq manillat

In documenting these dislocations – and creating what has elsewhere been termed ‘wounded pastoral’, a contrast with unproblematic or idyllic visions of Nature – an act of paying extreme attention is required.  The ecopoet must have the courage to follow through, to face the bleakness of the situation, and his/her own grief or despair.  As Jonathan Griffin writes in ‘Truthtime’: “I dread yet hunt truth/to the edge of dread’s lying.”

Of course any poet needs to maintain a watchful alertness for memories, sensations, emotions, ideas and dreams, which might emerge at any time of day or night, demanding to be listened to.  Nevertheless, in making the decision to write about a particular subject, there is often a choice-point at which a poet may impose a kind of self-censorship – perhaps because they feel that a particular subject would be too emotionally challenging to explore, or too controversial for an imagined readership?

The ecopoet, however, will where possible resist this kind of self-censorship.  Furthermore, in deliberately exploring the complex web of relationships between ecological destruction and the social, economic and political institutions perpetuating it, an ecopoet can open up a space for dissent, and even resistance, through his/her creation and sharing of what John Kinsella has termed ‘radicalised pastoral’.

3. RESISTANCE

In ‘Beautiful Transgressions: A Radical Feminism for Our Times’ (published in Ceasefire Magazine), Sara Motta highlights the way in which our industrial growth economy colonises all aspects of our lives: “the violence of (neoliberal) capitalism is intensely subjective, affective, embodied, intellectual, physical and spiritual.”

Just as a people living under an enemy occupation or an oppressive regime, we feel circumscribed in our ability to express ourselves.  Motta continues: “The collective wounds caused by these processes in our psyche, history, bodies and minds have resulted in a silenced subject filled with fears and a sense of limitation.”

Everyday social relationships have also become enmeshed within this all pervasiveness – not just through the break-down of communities, but also as capitalism encroaches on and commodifies our desires, we can become atomised and lonely, unable to collectivize and form new ways of living and being, or to voice any kind of serious dissent.  Nevertheless, Motta sees that any attempt to open up the ‘cracks in capitalism’ and to reclaim aspects of our wounded selves, can become a mode of political resistance.

In this way I see my own practice of ecopoetry as a means to address and reassemble fragmented aspects of myself – for example, my ability as a non-scientist to observe and trust my observations of change in weather patterns, or phenological phenomena, such as flowering and fruiting times, or leaf fall – what Jonathan Griffin calls ‘Common Sense of the Senses’, unmediated by ‘experts’ or government.

Interestingly, my own awareness and excitement at the possibilities of ecopoetry as a mode of radical response to the world did not emerge within any formal educational institution, but came in my early twenties after I‘d left university.  It was in a bookshop in Edinburgh that I discovered the extraordinary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.  The cover photograph of him on the Penguin edition of his collected poems was already striking; wearing a cheap cardboard hat with the American stars and stripes and his distinctive beard and glasses, this portrait was taken whilst Ginsberg was attending an anti-Vietnam war rally in 1966.

Randomly opening the large tome, I encountered the poem ‘Under the world there’s a lot of ass, a lot of cunt’, written in 1973, which offers a litany of the destruction that war has visited on people and planet: “Under the world there’s pain, fractured thighs, napalm burning in black hair, phosphorus eating elbows to bone/insecticides contaminating oceantide, plastic dolls floating across Atlantic….”  That Ginsberg must put all this suffering and destruction ‘under the world’ would indicate that it is not featured in everyday corporate media; instead it’s swept aside, unreported, ignored, and thus writing about it becomes an act of witnessing and resistance.

Various Beat poets, and those influenced by them, such as Anne Waldman, have used poetry as a means for protest.  In the preface to her early collection, Fast Speaking Woman, Waldman writes about the influence on her work of the Mazatec Indian healer/poet/shaman, Maria Sabina, and how her growing awareness of ethnopoetic literature, particularly through Technicians of the Sacred, Jerome Rothenberg’s collection of translated texts from cultures around the world, she and her students had come to use chanting “to create a force-field of energy for protest demonstrations at Rocky Flats plutonium plant in Boulder.”  One anti-nuclear work emerged as a group piece.

She continues: “I also began chanting “Mega mega mega mega mega mega mega death bomb – ENLIGHTEN!” the summer of 1978, later working the lines into lyrics for a ‘new-wave’ recording of ‘Uh Oh Plutonium!’”  Waldman then goes on to describe how the presence of poets, artists and other concerned individuals led to media reports and exposés, and a bust by the FBI.

Clearly therefore poets do have the capacity to effect change – to be Shelley’s ‘unacknowledged legislators’.  Waldman’s description of how she worked with a group, also shows the power of transcending any limiting sense of individuality.  In this regard, the eco-anarchist Paul Cudenec’s vision of the collective resisting the cancerous depredations of the military-industrial complex as being akin to the antibodies that form our immune system’s response to illness or disease is powerful.

In his pamphlet @ntibodies: Life death and resistance in the psyche of the superorganism, he writes: “Some human beings and their activities are acting as antigens, threatening the health of our species and our planetary superorganism.  Other humans, in whom a sense of individual freedom is combined with a responsibility for the whole, must therefore take on the role of antibodies.”

For Gary Snyder, his own sense of his political position comes in relation to the whole; he sees himself as “… a spokesman for wild nature.  I take that as a primary constituency.  And for the people who live in dependence on that….”  He also emphasises the importance of community and reading poetry (as opposed to publishing), and sees the poet articulating “the semi-known for the tribe”.

Additionally he regards the poet’s work as not being limited to cultural activities, such as reading or writing.  For him the ‘real work’ is also practical, working the land etc.  This kind of attitude sees the poet removed from his/her ‘ivory tower’, and actively engaged in producing food or in any other modes of activity required to meet a community’s needs.  It also endows the poet with a role in helping to shape the transition from an oil-dependent society to a low carbon, sustainable one – and these ideas form part of my final theme, which to date has been the least explored by ecopoets.

4. VISIONING

In A Defense of Poetry, Shelley offers a further elaboration of the poet as an essential visionary. “The poet not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time.”

In reading Shelley, we must inevitably ask ourselves, what flowers and fruits do we want to grow for ourselves and future generations?  Will it be an ecologically sustainable future, with social justice and the freedom for all beings to live peacefully as cornerstones of our society?  Or are we too caught up in our daily struggles to step back and ask ourselves “What are we working for?”  “What is our dream?”  As Black Elk said: “Without a vision, the people will perish.”

Scientists have now officially termed the modern geological era the Anthropocene, the one in which humankind adversely affects the planetary systems.  However, Thomas Berry offers an alternative vision, that of the Ecozoic era, which sees everything having its own place and role in the functioning of the planet.  But how can we make the switch from one to the other, especially when so much damage has already been done?

Clearly we must be simultaneously realistic and wildly creative in our dreaming.  In my poem ‘Aluna’, I imagine a future London, where climate change has had a significant impact; however in spite of the apocalyptic elements, another rhythm of life is possible here:

And there’s no choice
but to be in what’s left of Europe– Mother
Earth has moored humanity together at her table,
and she’s at the centre of all our decisions.
From our boat, I watch the river swimming
with the gibbous Moon; we use her light to sow
our seeds, and harvest every month when she dies.
We live by lunulations – have become silvery,
left-handed humans, who see their shadows;
and feminine in ways that men and women
had forgotten how to be.

http://internationaltimes.it/aluna/

Encouragingly Berry elaborates: “the foundations of a new historical period, the Ecozoic Era, have been established in every realm of human affairs.”  And if we look carefully, this is undoubtedly true.  In his book The Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, Paul Hawken documents hundreds of thousands of organisations around the world that comprise the Green Movement.  Like Cudenec, he sees it as the planet’s immune system.

Evidence of it is never far away – in various towns and cities across the UK, and in parts of the US and Europe, the Transition Movement is already helping people to take steps locally to make the shift towards a sustainable, resilient economy that does not depend on oil to truck or fly in food from far away, and often employs a local currency, such as the Totnes or Brixton pounds, which serve to keep the community’s wealth circulating within it.  As we watch (and help?) capitalism implode, it is essential that we all contribute to seeing what could replace it.  This might be some kind of green socialism, or eco-anarchism – perhaps a system, such as PARECON (an acronym for participatory economics), which Michael Albert has been developing.

The American Buddhist scholar and activist Joanna Macy describes the current movement in Western society towards a life-sustaining culture as The Great Turning, in which she discerns three simultaneous phases – a) direct action, on the front lines of ecological destruction, attempting to hold it back; b) creating alternative economic and social structures, for example in education and healthcare; and c) in providing the stories and visions that will help to create the new life-sustaining paradigm.  Ecopoets and artists, as well as ecocentric thinkers, are likely to be part of this third wave of the Great Turning, although as I have already indicated, hopefully we will be active in the other phases too!  But it must be acknowledged that we do have a vital role in showing others that where ‘The Wasteland Ends’ (to quote Roszak), the Ecozoic era begins.

I’d like to conclude with an extract from Rose Flint’s award-winning poem ‘The Field’, in which she offers us a glimpse of how the post-industrial field is repopulated by communities of wild creatures and humans.  Here the relationships are interdependent, based on the kind of mutuality which can exist within a harmonious family relationship, and perhaps recreating the lost state that Blake had lamented.  The refrain “I want the field…” is repeated many times throughout the poem, and I love how in doing this, Rose seems to will her vision into being….

I want the field not to have to prove anything
by statistics of wheatweight.
I want the field to have its own quota
of roe deer, walkers, horses, flies, vetch…
I want the field to be cherished, loved as family.
I want the field to be good for nothing except itself.

Helen Moore


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82 Responses to What is Ecopoetry?

  1. Compelling essay, so clearly and profoundly considered – a must-read for all budding poets refining their voice. The Earth needs all the champions she can muster. Go to help her, listen to her call, and return to translate it into our language!

  2. Olivia Byard says:

    Not sure who you are. However, there is a long tradition of ecopoetry in the UK, I think – from the Romantics, John Clare, as you suggest, Hardy, Edward Thomas (whose pastorals are dislocated and endangered). Edwin Muir’s great post-apocalyptic poem ‘The Horses’ has perhaps been most influential on me. Ted Hughes was an early eco-poet; may poets now write of warming, huge dislocation, the plight of animals, etc.. Simon Armitage did a great piece on melting that won the Keats-Shelley prize a little while ago. loads of poets are addressing the plight of bees, including the Poet Laureate. Jamie McKendrick is writing about extinction; Bernard O’ Donoghue writes of movingly of a landscape and life gone and lost; I recently had a poem in the New Statesman called ‘Posthumous’ which pretty well lays out what will happen if we don’t shape up (check it out – its on their web-site). The thing is the the UK poets don’t do diatribe a lot – they’re less ‘out front’; (and I’ve lived on both sides of the Atlantic – I fell for Ginsberg too; and enjoy Les Murray’s Translations From a Natural World) – however, that doesn’t mean they are less engaged at all.

    Also young performance poets are moving very fast. Inheritors of the ballad and bard tradition, loving performance, their politics and wit are biting; the flow exciting and fast. It’s perhaps more two dimensional than what they call ‘the quiet stuff’ and I might call the more reflective – there’s room for both, I think – but they make up for it with reams of clever enjambements and rhyme and rhythm hooks that allow them to go on to devastating effect for several minutes at a time- Luke Wright is a good example of this kind of poet. It doesn’t transfer to the page well, but they upload it to the net, and as my aforementioned poem points out, who’s to say that one form of technology will last longer than another, if warming goes on?

    I warm to your comments about how we must also be part of the solution though. I’ll think about that… .. Well said….

    • Helen Moore says:

      Thanks for the link to your poem, Olivia, and I’m glad you’ve found some useful bits in what I’ve written. As I say, my essay is in no way definitive. And yes, you’re right, Ted Hughes is a great early ecopoet. However, with regard to some of the other poets you mention, who write the occasional ecopoem, my essay is really about a world-view, an all encompassing practice… what it is to be an ecopoet.

      • Olivia Byard says:

        Helen, I have just looked at some of your poems and enjoyed them. However, I’m alarmed at how dismissive you are of the practice of other poets. In a way I understand – you are impatient and think all artists can do more. When I was young, I thought not much had been done before us – it took me a while to appreciate how much had been done by previous generations, and what they were up against – to forgive them for not succeeding as well as I thought I could. Some of us have been fighting a very long time in all kinds of ways, and go on fighting still – it is not the case of ‘occasional’ poems. Most of my current political practice takes place in letters in the Guardian, and the contributions of ideas, where and when I can. A lot of this is in prose and follows a lifetime of protest and action- -some of which informs and frames my work, eg. a recent poem about Greenham Common, that illustrates how conflict arises and escalates. But I would insist that my poetry is completely informed by the pressures on the planet ‘now’ as much as yours, because that sense of urgency is in me!

        Some of the other poets I’ve mentioned have done writing schemes with refugees, worked with struggling communities, and in public health and mental institutions; they are all political engaged and try to do as much as possible, in their particular spheres. They also try to live by example, and teach and learn. Instead of dismissing people as lacking, why not find out what others do?

        The thing that destroyed a lot of progressive movements in the 20th century was the need for ‘purity’ and a demand that everyone do one thing, and a judgement that some people were betraying the ‘revolution’ by not being perfect enough or committed enough. The ‘Left’ has destroyed itself often with splits. Capitalism may be on its last legs, but will try to take us all down with it as it dies. Old and young will need to contribute what they can. The safety of the planet does not exist in isolation of all the power structures and economic, psychological, sociological, and material needs and complications of humans. I’m sure you know that. There’s enough important and urgent work for everyone, and more – everything needs to be written about – especially thought and attitudes. Please learn from our mistakes; don’t repeat them.

        What you are doing looks interesting and I wish you well. I will buy a copy of your book. Good luck with your campaign, and I will continue with my practice, here. If we don’t start to work in harmony with the planet now, its animals, plants, and other people, my children and their children will not have a planet to live on. Let’s agree at least on that urgency and be kind across the generations. Friendliness among progressives has got to be integral to that this time around! It’s not enough to just feel pain. We all feel pain if we care at all, because the world is hurting and telling us!

        • Olivia Byard says:

          ps sorry I will leave after this – but eg. when I was in Alberta in the 70s, we discussed the tar sands and no one would take them into consideration because everyone felt then it would cost more to get the oil out than the profit they would get. The prediction then was that oil would run out by 2000. That was just after we’d learned the effect of detergents on animals and us. Even at that point a lot of us were desperate about the whole business and tried to stop it!

        • Helen Moore says:

          Thanks for engaging more in this discussion, Olivia… and I’m sorry that you find my comments about other poets dismissive. I do not intend to be dismissive of anyone, and I am well aware that many other poets engage with all sorts of issues… and I’m in no way denigrating what they have to contribute to the struggle vs capitalism etc etc.

          But as I explore in my essay, developing an ecocentric worldview takes time, practice and attention. There are various ecophilosophers, ecopsychologists etc whom I quote who have taken the time and effort to do what they can to deconstruct the anthropocentric Western materialist, dualist mindset… why then is it so problematic for ecopoets to aspire to do the same? All I am saying is that many poets will write poems from time to time that voice despair etc, but that does not mean they are consistently engaging with the kind of process I am describing.

          • Helen Moore says:

            Ps. And in case it isn’t clear, Olivia, I stand in solidarity with you and all folk who feel desperate at the devastating effects of capitalism on people and planet! Also, I think it’s interesting that you say that most of your current political practice goes on writing letters to the Guardian… I wonder why you don’t channel it into your poetry too?
            You might be interested in this other piece published in International Times: http://internationaltimes.it/the-new-political-poetry/

          • Olivia Byard says:

            Helen, I don’t really want to continue this publicly much more, because I feel put in a false position. I was not either supporting or dismissing establishment poets such as Armitage and Duffy, who I do not know, just pointing out the breadth( if not depth) of public practice in this country. My support was for the practice of those poets who I do know like McKendrick and O’Donoghue, and my dismay that you dismissed them so quickly. As for myself, and my own political practice, I do make suggestions and ways forward and public challenges in prose – to governments, Prime Ministers, etc.. I am not interested in despair at all; in fact I fight it wherever I find it – I am developing strategies and ideas for creating a sustainable world, and getting them out there as best I can. Is there some rule that says poets can’t use prose also!? I don’t follow anyone’s rules, ever, except the demands of my own practice.

            In my poetry, of course I engage fully with ways forward but in a more three-dimensional way. I don’t think delivering sermons or diatribes does anything but piss people off and alienate – I’m reaching out out them in deeper ways. Have you actually read my latest book, or any of my work? How can you possibly suggest what I should be doing or not doing, or presume to chide me, without doing so? In fact, why would any poet try to tell another poet what to do? A poet knows that they must work with their own given material – their own emotional muscles are basic to the process. I have at least ordered your book and will read it! I’ve also ordered the complete Gary Snyder because it’s been a while since I caught up with him.

            Your article has interested me because it has has introduced me to other work that is going on. Of course philosophies should be developed and carried forward. I don’t argue that at all. Alarm bells just ring for me when I hear the ‘same old purity of thought and practice stuff’. There is really no time for that here. You will have to take things forward when we die off, but we are ‘not dead yet’. We all need to work wherever we can and as hard as we can, and with whoever cares even the slightest bit and make them care more. The planet is not going to wait around for everyone to get the right eco-line!!

    • For those who have not yet familiarised themselves with the work of Helen Moore, I thoroughly recommend her recently published collection, Hedge Fund, published by Shearsman. You can read some extracts here http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2012/moore.html

    • Dylan Danzeiser says:

      Hello, I was reading through your comment and you mentioned the existence of performance ecopoets, do you have any good resources where I could find copies or even videos of their work? Thanks a bunch!

  3. Dave Tomlin says:

    Yes, but do you pull the chain every time you have a pee?

  4. Naomi Foyle says:

    This is a compelling and inspiring introduction to the field, elegantly setting poems and poets in the context of science and activism. Thank you, Helen! I would only add that the tar sands project also poisons people – we are all ‘downstream’, but as ever in Canada it is the First Nations indigenous people who are most immediately suffering: from cancer epidemics to the destruction of their land. They are resisiting, here: http://www.ienearth.org/tarsands.html

  5. electra ruby says:

    Hi there Helen, I hear your cry of pain. I hear you struggling not to fall into despair in the face of what can seem like unstoppable tides of human blindness.I’ve been through all that . Now I believe that logic cannot save the world. A critical mass must move into metaphysical dimensions and Dream a ” New Heaven and a New Earth ” into being. It is up to each individual to find ways of manifesting the vision. At this point I have no more to say – except your poetry is beautiful and powerful.
    Thank you.

  6. Editor says:

    Point of information: IT’s own Heathcote Williams is one of England’s seminal ecopoets. Ecology is not his only obsession, but his string of illustrated books for endangered species in the 80′s really put ecopoetry on the map here, and his recent poem for IT, The Tigers of Wrath, shows he still works in this vein.

    • Helen Moore says:

      Again, thanks for this point of information. And indeed, Heathcote Williams’ work has moved me to tears… I can only apologise that my survey was not sufficiently large to include all the poets whose work I love!

  7. Olivia Byard says:

    ps. Oh pax, Helen. Your article is interesting and informative. And I do respect what you are doing and your enthusiasm makes me optimistic. I just want every progressive to link up on this subject and others, and the subjects to link up also, across the generations, etc., because there is so much to do, and nothing much is simple. The greys are often what matters most; the work is complex and difficult; we need all the expertise going; all the good will and enthusiasm people have and can muster. I genuinely feel after years of thought, ideologies, dogmas, rebuttals, betrayals, mistakes, etc. in all sorts of fields, that an eclectic and holistic approach is needed in every endeavour, for real success. This means The Guardian and IT;even the Telegraph or Times; my kind of poetry and other peoples’ ways of writing. Prose and poetry. I want the best out of every voice, and every voice we can get!!
    Good luck with honing your ideas and I’ll see how I like your poetry when your book arrives.

  8. Olivia Byard says:

    Unfortunately I did read the article on the ‘new political poetry’ -so I can’t leave quite yet; it sneered a lot and told me nothing much about what ‘new political poetry’ is except that the author is dissatisfied with PR. It was also quite repellently ageist – although I have never seen a poet of any age with a ‘blue rinse’ – a bit dated that one. It’s ad hominem – but Craig Raine does it much better, with more original invective. Cameron would be proud of this writer – he has fallen straight into the Tory trap of blaming the old for all our troubles, (or the young or the europeans, or the famous, or anyone to divide and distract us from the matter at hand.

    I’m not going to defend PR here; it is not my job. However, I really thought Jamie’s poem in that Issue very fine, though he does not need me to defend him at all (and probably would not be very pleased either). I don’t have the poem to hand, but remember clearly the rows of fish at prayer with lidless eyes in the water – those who follow blindly without seeing, and the great last line about ‘green’ which is so positive about life, and which we learn through struggling and surviving griefs, ‘black-banded, but bright with life’

    He has just released a translation of Bassani’s The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, which is an exploration of the outsider, and how we all jostle for position. It’s a great novel- recommended.

    No, this article is nowhere near the standard of yours. The author confuses new poetry with new people, and expects diatribes, polemics, rants. He’s searching in the wrong place. However, politics has always been in UK poetry – he just wants to hear one kind of angry, demanding voice. We can all do that – it takes no skill or craft. We just need to shout!!
    Or better still, the CP M-L newspaper from the seventies – so boring, but right on-line!!
    Gotta dig out my blue rinse, and go back to work!!

    • Editor says:

      IT is not ageist. It has published works by Robert Bly, Hakim Bay, Bernard Kops, Paula Rego, Clayton Eshleman, and many many others to whom the adjective ‘old’ might be applicable. IT reveres the elder, and consults the elder. The poets who were challenged in McDevitt’s acclaimed essay about the Poetry Review are mostly middle-aged, and some are even youngish.

      The blue-rinsers are a high percentage of the PR readership, a known fact. You actually find blue hairs in the pages of the many second-hand editions taken to the charity shops, when the subscriptions have finally ended.

      You should stick with the Guardian. You don’t seem to understand what IT is about, to judge by your wilful misinterpretations of our messages.

      • Olivia Byard says:

        No I don’t think I do understand what IT is about – except obviously responding emotively and not objectively to honest appraisals or critiques of their articles!! I have already said that I think Helen Moore’s article is informative; I thought I had a public right to not like another article. For the record, I said the article was ageist, not necessarily the on-line magazine. Sneering about blue rinsers is ageist, although inaccurate because old people today do not wear blue rinses – white hair or colourful hair is now the norm. Do you go around checking charity shops for hairs – sounds unlikely and silly to me!!? And a really weird way of gauging readership – obviously research methods are unusual here! Acclaimed article – acclaimed by whom, exactly and where!?

        However, if you call readers disliking a specific article, ‘wilful misinterpretations of (your) messages’
        then my original concern that you are only interested in already committed followers of ‘a particular line’ and are closed minded is proved correct; and yes, you do not have anything to offer me, or any other questioning reader. A good publication is open to argument, criticism, etc.. Certainly Guardian writers get daily mountains of criticism and often painful abuse, and take it in their stride. Democracy is like that – it is robust and thrives on dissent.

        Your comment is a pity because I think the world deserves better and I had hoped when I read Helen’s article that this page might be contributing something good to help a huge struggle. Now I hope that if Helen Moore is as good a writer as I suspect she might be, that she broadens her horizons and reaches more open minds.

        This whole approach of yours is so old-fashioned and divisive, and I saw it so often last century, it is really depressing. Yes I do have more respect for people like George Monbiot, who research properly and argue their cases in public bravely.

        • Dave Tomlin says:

          Sometimes the whole point of the argument is lost, or is the poetry more important than the subject? For ‘eco’ read pollution and its companion, waste. Both in view of evolution, criminal acts. Poetry about these acts is all very well but as Electra Ruby has commented, ‘logic cannot save the world.’ By now only the very foolish rely on government to deal with the problem. Again it is E. R. who points out that from now on it is down to each individual the begin pushing back and this means YOU!
          So I say once more: Do you pull the chain after taking a pee?

        • Niall says:

          Dear Olivia, thank you for your criticisms. ‘Tis too starved a subject for my sword’. Political poetry can come from the unconscious.

  9. Olivia Byard says:

    Thanks. There’s a three letter word, and four letter words. Sometimes both together. Goodbye.

  10. johnnyvoid says:

    “In his pamphlet @ntibodies: Life death and resistance in the psyche of the superorganism, he writes: “Some human beings and their activities are acting as antigens, threatening the health of our species and our planetary superorganism. Other humans, in whom a sense of individual freedom is combined with a responsibility for the whole, must therefore take on the role of antibodies.”

    Who should we kill this time Führer?

    • Editor says:

      Niall:

      It’s a literary technique called an extended metaphor, just as your ‘Fuhrer’ is both simile and hyperbole. ‘Acting as antigens’ is key. It is Capitalism the author – Paul Cudenec – is talking about, and the combatting of it.

  11. johnnyvoid says:

    I’m aware it’s a metaphor, but I think you’ll find it’s ‘some humans’ that is the key phrase. You do the author of the pamphlet, which tacitly calls for armed resistance, a disservice by placing your liberal interpretation above what he’s actually saying.

    • Helen Moore says:

      Johnny, I will leave Paul to defend his ideas, if he so chooses. However, I clearly do not advocate armed resistance in my essay. Moreover, I also refer to Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest using the same metaphor of the planetary immune system as, “the hundreds of thousands of organisations around the world that comprise the Green Movement.”

      Interestingly, our culture continually militarises its sense of how the body responds to antigens… we talk of ‘combatting illness and disease’ etc, whereas in other cultures there is more of a sense of illness being a dysfunction of the whole mind/body/spirit continuum, and therefore dis-ease literally being an opportunity to heal on all levels. Also, when you look at the science involved in how the immune system works, the antibodies actually do something which is more like ‘embracing’ the antigens, binding themselves to an antibody, which subsequently allows the cellular part of the immune system to respond.

    • Editor says:

      Niall:

      You do the author of ‘What is Ecopoetry?’ a disservice by calling her Fuhrer.

      Funny how unreconstructed reds cry Nazi so unfailingly. Why not mine the horrors of Leninism-Stalinism for cliched analogies?

      The Velvet revolution, the Jasmine revolution are modern idylls, but as the Arab Spring demonstrates, things can go either way once the revolutionary wheel starts to roll.

      DH Lawrence – an English working class writer and universal sage – called for:

      A SANE REVOLUTION

      If you make a revolution, make it for fun,

      don’t make it in ghastly seriousness,

      don’t do it in deadly earnest,

      do it for fun.

      Don’t do it because you hate people,

      do it just to spit in their eye.

      Don’t do it for the money,

      do it and be damned to the money.

      Don’t do it for equality,

      do it because we’ve got too much equality

      and it would be fun to upset the apple-cart

      and see which way the apples would go a-rolling.

      Don’t do it for the working classes.

      Do it so that we can all of us be little aristocracies on our own

      and kick our heels like jolly escaped asses.

      Don’t do it, anyhow, for international Labour.

      Labour is the one thing a man has had too much of.

      Let’s abolish labour, let’s have done with labouring!

      Work can be fun, and men can enjoy it; then it’s not labour.

      Let’s have it so! Let’s make a revolution for fun!

  12. johnnyvoid says:

    To successfully make the declaration that the green movement represents antigens saving the planet, whether as metaphor or crude gaian theory, we need two definitions – what is the green movement – and more importantly what are the pathogens?

    Is Zac Goldsmith part of the green movement, or Whole Earth Supermarkets, or your local health food shop?

    Is the pathogen is capitalism (which breaks the analogy somewhat anyway), then how do you square the capitalist members of the green movement as also being their own opposition?

    If the pathogen is everybody else (who isn’t part of the green movement), then I’m afraid that’s even worse – even if you are right, and even if you win, this kind of naked elitism is the road to tyranny and if you genuinely seek the end of capitalism and hierarchy, both of which are fundamental to green anarchism, then creating a specialized (and worrying mystical) revolutionary class is counter to that struggle – I’d recommend reading Giving Up Activism warning of the pitfalls of this approach: http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/activism.htm

  13. Dave Tomlin says:

    Helen. Flushing in this instance stands for many other kinds of human behaviour all of which are destructive to the planet.
    To found a reputation as an ‘Eco Poet’ might even be considered shameful, rather like being an atrocity poet or similar.
    However, I have noticed that the English Druids have now been granted status as a recognised religeon and are being followed by other ‘Pagan’ movements such as Wicca groups and Witch’s Covens. This is interesting since it would seem that the only power that will move Electra Ruby’s ‘critical mass’ from within is some form of religeous thinking. Perhaps these pagans might take Ghia (Giah?) out of her box and give her a bit of a dust off.

  14. Editor says:

    Niall:

    Now you demonstrate the folly of taking metaphors too literally as you confuse antigens with antibodies.

  15. Olivia Byard says:

    Dear Helen,

    I dread going back onto this really upsetting page where people hide behind first names and insult visitors, but I have just received and read your book and can’t find another way of reaching you for sure. I really really loved Hedge Fund – I think it is really very good, and I’m going to read some poems to my students tomorrow and recommend it. I actually find Alice Oswald a little cold, but I warm to your passion, your own warmth and vulnerability, your deep love, knowledge of, and sympathy with, the earth and its creatures and plants, your introduction of the plight of other peoples into the situation – (the UK can be pretty myopic). I enjoyed the prose as well, and in the poems the effortless runs of description, the linguistic play, the use of myth, our old gods, Buddhist ideas, paganism, dialect, history, exactly the kind of eclectic mix I was referring to previously. It made me cry and fill up with feeling and there is not a lot of work that does that. You will get your voice and vison heard, I’m sure of that. And I also think we might be on the cusp of something better – in fact we have to be, or leave the poor old earth to recover without us, which it will – don’t worry, in time. But that would be a pity because there is so much good and gift and originality in most people – they are just mistaught and misled. Your poetry, if not your messages to me, gives me hope –

    I like hearing which poems a reader has liked most, so I’ll list my favourites in book order: Treasure Trove, Bee, The Fallen,
    American Rose, The Underneath Farmers (great), In Good Hands ( my real favourite, I think), Best Paper (I remember), Cherry Picking, Nativity, The Knife, Castrated, Cunt Magic. The only poem that doesn’t work so well for me, and it’s not the poem itself but the marginalia, is the title poem – I get that you want to show how the margin stuff interrupts the beauty and music, but I can’t stand that stuff; the only way I could read the poem at all (which is great BTW), is to actually shut it out – and presumably you want people to hear that stuff. Actually, thinking further, I suppose that might be what you want readers to have to do, in which case you succeed. Actually, on reflection, am beginning to go for intolerable obscene prose – pain – in poem that has to be shut out!! Not a bad idea!

    Good luck and I’ll keep my eye out for more of your work. And, yes, as you said, it is about much more than flushing the loo which is why I dont reply to that sort of nonsense – as I tried to say – I might examine some of your philosophical references when I have time also – BTW, I agreed with your three pronged argument, just not with how you so easily dismiss others who I know care as much as you, including me. And I guess you now know that I don’t take kindly to being told how and what to write!!

    It appears to me, since it’s my birthday, that the editors here need to work out when exactly their so-called ‘veneration’ of elders takes over from their vilification, dismissal and contempt! Paula Rego was so keen on my first book of poems she was happy to have a pic of hers on the cover!! Maybe you’ve got a formula here – who knows – maybe this b’day is the day, and ‘veneration’ or even a modicum of respect and civility happens tomorrow…. !
    Best wishes to you anyway,

    Olivia

    • Helen Moore says:

      Thank you so much, Olivia, for your generous response to my work… I’m happy to hear how much it has touched you, and appreciate your taking the time to offer such a detailed appraisal of the poems you particularly liked. I will certainly look out for your work too, and in the meantime, send you good wishes.

  16. dave tomlin says:

    Olivia. I am surprised that not flushing the loo every time you pee is nonsense. The loo issue is of course only one of perhaps a thousand other items that I could have used, but since the subject is now so vast and complicated it is well to point out the most basic of our daily actions to begin with, that is fresh drinking water, something that very many on this planet are deprived of and we so complacent about, and of course neither you or Helen Moore have answered this question, perhaps the subject offends your sensibilities? As I said before it is useless to rely on government to solve the problem which can only be resolved at its root, that is the behaviour of each individual of our consumerist culture in their daily life. If this is a serious site then it should be looking for other (practical) ways to influence this behaviour rather than engaging is silly and futile arguments about blue rinses and who writes the best poetry. Poetry? All very well in its place but doesn’t quench the thirst of the deprived.

  17. Olivia Byard says:

    This is my final reply to you: you have changed my comment ‘ you’re right, it is about much more than flushing the loo’ to you’re ‘surprised that not flushing the loo every time you pee is nonsense’. I cannot be dealing with that sort of way of creating straw-dog arguments. My life is too busy and serious. If the site is serious then you need to argue with what people actually say!

    I wrote to Helen about her poetry. It’s too bad you don’t like poetry, but your individual likes or dislikes are not my issue here. I find you aggressive, offensive, and silly. You remind me of my sons when they were fifteen – I’ve written a poem about it, called, actually ‘Fifteen’ = if you dont do what I say, you’re crap’. It is about war as adolescent behaviour.

    I would have thought it obvious that both Helen and I care about fresh drinking water – it would be bizarre if she didn’t because I’ve read her work. No one has to prove their purity of purpose to you because you keep demanding it! Books are actually great things and poets die for causes.

    Oh I’m getting drawn in again. ..Forget it.

  18. Editor says:

    Niall:

    Dear Olivia, if you come onto this site ready to dish out criticism you better be equally ready to have it dished out. Simple rule.

    My own contributions to this forum are always in the form of criticisms of criticisms. It’s remarkable how offended the critics are when a bit of criticism boomerangs back their way.

    I know it doesn’t work like that on the letters page of the Guardian, where there’s no response to a conribution. Here there is a response.

  19. Olivia Byard says:

    So you are Niall?!

    I came on this page first to read Helen’s article and wrote a mostly complimentary reply. We had a brief argument and resolved it. Today I came here only to send her a message because I couldn’t get her network page to work – I hope she receives it. I have heard no sensible arguments at all from the rest of you who all use only first names, but make a load of assumptions, cryptic comments, sneering, hostile statements, and generally have a lack of interest about someone writing to you on your page, except that you keep on having a real ‘pet’ against the Guardian, for some reason.

    If you were building a movement to help the planet or its people, you would be more interested in linking up with people and less in yourselves, and just dismissing someone who has visited you. Instead of sitting here burnishing your credentials as anarchists or whatever (with endless old Stalinist, anarcho, christ-knows what lines), and pretending you all live in 50s New York and that you’re cool and organising the revolution, you would be coming up with practical ideas to help. If the young man who demands to know my toileting habits had any sense he might for example tell me something about his own practice and try to engage me in dialogue about ideas or things you are doing in a friendly way.

    Your ‘editorial’ job here as far as I can see, is to protect your friends from having to answer any well-made point I make against their attacks. You jump in with emotive attacks on the person who has made the reasoned argument. You have done it several times so that the other people on the site don’t have to answer. You also hide behind anonymity. Your arguments are always ad hominen. With me they always refer to the fact that I have had letters in the Guardian as though that is some incredible crime.

    In fact if you ever and I mean ever, investigated anything, you would find that Guardian on-line has hundred and hundreds of responses to each article, letter, and blog. And that some responses are published in the Paper and some in the on-line version But you don’t investigate, do you? Ever? Like the blue hairs stuff- unless that was a silly wind-up!

    If you are clever, some of you will keep on like this and if the society survives long enough, you might end up as a latter-day Ian Hislop – though he is pretty clever, so maybe not. The less clever will just get their pony-tails longer and grumble about the revolution as the society disintegrates around them. I predict this because you don’t want to link up with people; see enemies where none exist; see in, and make, enemies of potential friends; and waste your energies on pretend bogeymen leaving the real bogeymen laughing into their champagne glasses as animals and people die; and I have seen previous generations of young men like you for decades. Maybe you piss me off because was involved with men like you once and got really fed up with it after a while. Somehow this stuff doesn’t lead either to a better society, or helping with nappy-changing. Some of you, however may, with luck, get bored and move on.

    Helen though, has real talent and possibly her work will speak to many people. I think she is probably too close to all of you to wish to reply to my generous and honest appraisal of her work, maybe even thinks it’s dreadful that such a person as me should like her work; in which case she’s a bigger fool than I take her for, but still, I wish her well.

    If any of you used any common sense at all, this all might have gone a very different way, because I was intrigued. But I’m not now any longer. Sit around and rejoice that you’ve purged me!! Meanwhile I’ll go on trying to help, and doing my work.

    Olivia Byard

    • Editor says:

      ‘The young man who demands to know my toileting habits’ is not the only person who treats the IT comments board as an intellectual and emotional toilet.

  20. dave tomlin says:

    I hereby declare that I do not flush when I pee. Anyone else?
    Let’s have some peeing poetry, and after that, some plastic shopping-bag poems, some plastic wrapping poems and so on, that would be a real start.
    Here’s one:

    There was a young leaf on a tree
    Who tried to get down for a pee.

  21. dave tomlin says:

    Time for an overview on all this. Olivia Bayard seems to think that someone is trying to ‘build a movement’, an idea doomed to failure as can be seen from the acrimony displayed here already by the variouse commentators on this site, all purporting to be on the same side. This is a common syndrome which although in some ways unfortunate does have an upside. For instance government itself itself falls at this fence, squabbling amongst its various factions in internicene wars that squander its energy and thwarts its purpose. This is however, fortunate, since were it able to get its act together we would be living in a police state. Organisations always split into schisms in this way, that is why the solution to the problem lies with each individual, and therefore this means you! (I promise not to mention peeing again) All references to: Marxism, Leninism, Fabianism, and all other isms are futile, did any of them work? Well just look around you. All those ideas are passe (like sooo last century) International Times was set up as a forum for radical ideas, that is radical NEW ideas which are desparately needed now, or have we all been so coerced into the consumerist mindset that our brains have atrophied and fit for nothing except squabbles about blue rinses and ponytails? I am aware that this issue arose out of a question about poetry and Helen should be commended for lifting this lid, but poets have always been responsible for lifting lids, that one might say that is their function. IT is a think tank, appealing to the best minds for ways of dealing with this kind of problem, while avoiding the kind of acrimony displayed so far which has already lost us Olivia, which is a great pity since she is obviously serious about the issue. So come back Olivia your planet needs you.

  22. johnnyvoid says:

    Anarchism means no rulers, that’s a good enough idea for me.

    I think some of the dissonance which has been present in the discussions on here is really down to people misusing that term. Anarchism is not liberalism, individualism, or small scale capitalism, or even marxism – though most anarchists would recognise that the first priority (and the terrain where any victory will play out) is class struggle. Any change can only happen from the bottom up.

    Niall spits out insults and calls for a love in with the upper classes, whilst Helen seems reluctant to tell us who she considers the enemy is. Given she’s compared the situation to the holocaust, we might have hoped for a more precise analysis.

    People need to sharpen up their politics and learn a little about the history and theory of struggle, because unfortunately, anyone not opposed to hierarchy in all it’s forms (and that means all capitalism), is not really on my side. We’ve got a rather eloquent illustration of where vapid liberalism leads to in Government at the moment. As you said, IT has a rather more radical tradition.

  23. Niall says:

    For very obvious reasons there is no Anarchist Party.

    Nor is there an Anarchist party line.

    There are as many Anarchisms as there are Anarchists, each with its own misrules and deregulations.

    My Anarchism is more a Declasse movement than a working class movement, welcomes Anarchists from any class, and is not about one class having revenge on another. It is about striving for a classless society.

    The IT comments board was envisaged as an Anarchist forum, but has descended into a bearpit. This is because the IT collective is against censorship and believes in freedom of speech. Therefore we have never used the ‘Unapprove’ button. Other online magazines would have ‘Unapproved’ many of the comments as soon as they were posted. I have argued for this but was overruled. Understandably, it would be a very difficult call. Who ‘Unapproves’ and what do they ‘Unapprove’ of?

    I apologise to anyone who feels they have been insulted by me. My only excuse is that I am retaliating to insults, either to me or to artists whom I’ve invited to contribute. I should know better and will try harder not to lose my cool.

    Anarchism is evolving all the time. I’m honoured to have had regular contributions to IT from the great Australian poet John Kinsella – who by the way ‘loves what IT is doing’. He is a vegan-pacifist-anarchist. (See his ‘Manifesto Against Rapacity’ in IT.) We notice that Void – who recently attacked Paul Cudenec for preaching ‘armed resistance’ – also attacked John Kinsella for preaching pacificism: ‘Pacifism is moral cowardice. Never trust a hippy.’ Such is Void’s level. Seeing hypocrisy like this makes it seem to me that his attacks on IT contributors are gratuitous, not integral.

    Another IT contributor Jamie Heckert is a very modern Anarchist who is concerned with issues such as the ‘emotional sustainability’ of Anarchist collectives, and with NVC or ‘non-violent communication’. We could all learn a thing or two from Mister Heckert.

    Lesson is: if you brandish the ‘A’ – make sure it doesn’t stand for ANACHRONISM.

  24. johnnyvoid says:

    I didn’t attack Paul Cudenec for his call for armed resistance. I pointed out you were misusing his position to further your own liberal argument.

    If you think this is a bearpit then you obviously haven’t read many other online magazines.

  25. Niall says:

    When Helen Moore quoted Cudenec’s idea of antibodies vs antigens, you wrote to her: ‘Who should we kill this time Führer?’

  26. johnnyvoid says:

    That’s right. I was trying to establish whether she had the courage of her conviction to take real action against what she believes is a similar situation to the holocaust. It appears not.

    • Niall says:

      No you were not. You were expressing moral outrage at the thought that there might be any violent purging of one sector of society by another; just as you later expressed moral outrage at Leninism-Stalinism’s purges.

      You’ve been rumbled, mate! Your two phrases are strikingly similar in style, strikingly different in content:

      1) Who should we kill this time Fuhrer? 2) Pacificism is moral cowardice. Never trust a hippy.

      If you were really seeing what action Helen Moore was willing to take against the perpetrators of holocaust you would have asked: ‘Who should we kill this time, Prime Minister?’

      • johnnyvoid says:

        Do you really think rejecting pacifism as an ideology means you have to be in favour of all violence all the time?

        • Niall says:

          Violence is a cycle, not a one-off.

          And the gains of violence are always maintained by oppression.

          • johnnyvoid says:

            Only recently you were cheering on the student riots and the black bloc.

            At least try and maintain the illusion of consistency.

  27. johnnyvoid says:

    Anarchism is a working class movement, and in fact has to be a working class movement. It is about the control of land, production and labour from the bottom up. This means the working class taking control of capital and putting it to use for the benefit of all and under the control of all.If that happens it probably won’t be peaceful. That, is revolution.

    Class war is being waged on us, more than ever at the moment as the few concessions won by the working class are being rolled back. That doesn’t mean people from outside of the working class can’t be involved in struggle by any means, except they must leave their class privilege at the door if they do. But it essential for anarchism to have an understanding and analysis of class as the dominant form of oppression. Anarchism has a real history, not just in theory but in practice. And in practice anarchism has only been successful as a working class movement.

    It is true that anarchists challenge other hierarchies of oppression, such as religion or patriarchy, and have fought those alongside capitalism (as well as recognising the interplay which goes on between them). I’m afraid the piece under discussion, where Helen talks of transcending gender yet seeks to not only gender the planet but also place all upon ‘her’ all the traits which patriarchy has inflicted on woman, reveals yet another contradiction in the politics of the piece.

    The word anarchism has been misused and re-appropriated by both the liberal and fascist right. That doesn’t mean those attempts to hijack the movement should be embraced as part of it.

  28. Niall says:

    If you were testing whether Helen Moore – pacifist – had ‘the courage of her convictions’, why call her ‘Fuhrer’? That would imply there was something wrong with the violent revolution you seem to be endorsing now.

    You’ve set up a double standard. If Helen Moore was to espouse a violent revolution, she would be Hitler. If Johnny Void espouses violent revolution, it’s working-class anarchism in action.

    • johnnyvoid says:

      Without personalising things yes. The political aims and ideology behind any political violence are important. Obviously.

  29. Niall says:

    I’ve just heard from jamie Heckert about Joshua Stephens who is a practicising Buddhist Anarchist and will hopefully be speaking at LARC later this year.

  30. dave tomlin says:

    I am now going to show my complete ignorance in the hope that in the process I will learn something. Never having studied political philosophy I must take the meaning of ‘Anarchy’ from the commonly held view ie: the tearing down of social order and the destruction of all its works, for example the recent rioters were held to be anarchists. Any large scale (peacefull) protest is now liable to be taken over by anarchists who just want to create mayhem and smash things up. Of course protest has become a futile action anyway, since if the police can’t handle it there is always the military, and having to ask permission first is no protest. Looking in the dictionary I see that it says: Anarchy – Total lack of organisational control: Lawlessness. No government – no police. I may be naive but surely this would just mean that gangsters, bullies and warlords would take over; instead of paying rent to property owners we would be paying protection money to the likes of the Kray twins and others of their ilk. Or is the dictionary written by the powers that be? I have heard philisophical definitions refering to the idea that left to itself the better part of human nature would reign and peace be all around, however I instinctively feel that this is a pretty idea but rather wishful in character. I know this is rather far from the ecological issue but since we have arrived at this point, can someone enlighten me?

  31. Niall says:

    ‘Only recently you were cheering on the student riots and the black bloc. At least try and maintain the illusion of consistency.’

    I wasn’t aware the students or anarchists had killed anyone or even seriously wounded anyone. I wholeheartedly believe in bloodless revolution, not a pipe dream but the major drama of recent history.

    I also applaud the assault on institutions. It damages the infrastructure of oppression without bloodshed. The attack on Millbank was a triumph. It gave everyone food for thought. The Tories had to evacuate their own headquarters, and had to take even the most temporary break from hatching their fiendish plots. The damage to their building was also damage to their morale, their authority, their prestige.

    • johnnyvoid says:

      Several coppers were injured at the Millbank protest. At times there was fierce fighting, as there was at the subsequent student protests and on March 26th. The property damage and the Millbank occupation couldn’t have happened without violence towards the police, who funnily enough don’t just stand back and allow people to trash buildings. You insult the bravery of the people who confronted the police by trying to airbrush them out of history.

  32. dave tomlin says:

    Having checked out the Anarchist website suggested I can only say, well I knew all that from the dictionary: ‘Anarchy – Total lack of organisation – Lawlessness’, most of the rest is intellectual waffle, though it does raise some interesting questions. Niall says, ‘There are as many Anarchisms as there are Anarchists’, and ‘My Anarchism is more a Declasse movement’. So it seems there are many forms of Anarchy, or does that mean there are many ways of bringing Anarchy about, but of course it’s hardly likely that there could be, (being Anarchists) any agreement about this; reread all the (Anarchic) comments on this site and this is quite apparent. Then there is the question of results. I quote from the site: ‘Ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives ”in their own interests” anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly’. Well, looking again at the comments on this site purporting to be by intelligent and politically aware people, never mind ‘ordinary’ people, I remain unconvinced of that, though it doesn’t follow that I therefore support the present status quo with its government of madmen and certifiable maniacs. ‘Which clown would you vote for?’ What would happen if nobody turned up to vote? That would be an interesting Anarchical situation, although if such a thing occured they’d probably just vote each other in.

    • johnnyvoid says:

      Give it a rest you old shyster.

      For examples of anarchism in action then the regions of Catalonia and Aragon in 1930s Spain, the Ukraine Free Territory from 1918-21 and the Shinmin autonomous region in Manchuria which developed from 1929 are good starting points.

      Like all political ideologies, from socialism to capitalism, there are different schools of anarchist thought and practice. All reject capitalism with no compromises and all acknowledge class hierarchy and the struggle against this as essential. There is no school of declasse anarchism, just as there is no school of anarchism which welcomes small business, or which seeks to sneer at the working class for the environmental problems caused by capitalism.

  33. dave tomlin says:

    Yes I agree, the pot has come off the boil, no use flogging a dead horse.
    Toodloo, Pom diddly om pom, Poum Poum.

  34. johnnyvoid says:

    and once again the point flies over your head.

  35. electra ruby says:

    Oh Stop it all of you! That’s the trouble with you academic types, you get lost in mental arguments and lose touch with the
    promptings of your heart. As a great modern poet said. ” Let us not talk falsely now – the hour is getting late”

  36. dave tomlin says:

    CHAIN REACTION

    Language is of the mind
    Action is of the heart
    Hence not to pull the chain
    For just a tiny pee
    Would be a start.

    • electra ruby says:

      About the pee, I agree.
      And a great big fart is good for the heart
      ( Lets not lose our sense of the ridiculous)

  37. dave tomlin says:

    Hear ye, hear ye. Thus spake electra. 10/10

  38. roselle says:

    Helen, belatedly – I just wanted to applaud you for the essay. Clear, heartful, thoughtful and wise. Thank you.

    And let’s do that book swap!

    Love, Roselle

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