Published on 4 October 2023
Today – Thursday 5th October – is National Poetry Day in the UK. NPD is the annual mass celebration that encourages everyone in the UK to make, experience and share poetry with family and friends. Obviously, this is a big day at The Poetry Society, which is a Project Partner of RENEW.
There are poetry events all around the country today, and we’re marking the occasion with a new classroom resource – Care Package – for Key Stages 3-5, the Foyle Young Poets (To be announced 1300 05/10/23) of the Year Award Ceremony at Shakespeare’s Globe, and the announcement of the winners of our Stanza Poetry Competition (To be announced 1200 05/10/23) – which this year is on the NPD theme of ‘refuge’.
But what is it that brings together RENEW and poetry, and how might the idea of ‘refuge’ help us understand this relationship? A key part of the RENEW project is the concept of ‘personalised ecologies’. A personalised ecology is a unique set of interactions with nature grounded by history and place. And that – an individual’s experience of nature in a particular place at a particular time – is a pretty good definition of a vast swathe of poetry. This ranges from traditional Romantic poetry to contemporary ecopoetics, of the kind explored in our Poetry and Nature resources for schools.
A lot of these poems are celebrations and evocations of the transformative power of nature. They are evidence of the positive effects of nature on human wellbeing, which research in the RENEW project is exploring. This is the central idea behind Bill Kelly’s poem, ‘A Rustic Remedy’, which was highly commended in the Poetry Society’s Young Poets Challenge with People Need Nature. Bill writes,
My friend, I hear you are feeling down in the dumps,
so how about a rustic remedy to lift your mood?
Later, the poet advises that we, ‘Listen as birds chime in chorus and sing to the sky, / a soothing sound that never falters.’.
Other poems, especially those written in the last few years, as the scale of ecological disaster has become ever more apparent, are cries of anguish at the environmental crises of the Anthropocene, and our complicity in them.
You do not see our movements, but
We are every bit as alive as fire, as the sky.
One particular way in which these poems explore the natural world is through the idea of nature as refuge. In ‘Do not be afraid of reading this poem’, another young poet, Maggie Wang, writes,
go outside, and let the splintering clouds remind you
that this could be the last day of your life.
Other poems explore how, under the weight of climate change, nature begins to fail us as a refuge. This is the underlying idea of Weina Jin’s poem, ‘a sojourn in venice, the “drowning city”’.
As the last poem suggests, these pieces aren’t just records of our emotions, attitudes, and behaviours towards the natural world, but may actually shape positive behaviour towards biodiversity protection or renewal.
Put simply, if a poem or another work of art makes another person think about, understand, and value nature, then they may be more motivated to look after it. Or as National Poetry Day puts it, “Each year we come together because voices, words and stories help to bridge understanding in our community.”
You must, in the words of Kexin Huang, face the world ‘Knowing that you are a small piece / of future splintering’.
We would like to thank the team at the Poetry Society for producing this blog and providing such a great investigation of National Poetry Day’s 2023 theme – Refuge.
The second episode of the Too Little Too Hard Podcast is now available on Spotify. In this episode, RENEW Postdoctoral Researcher Lucy Mercer and Livia Franchini are in conversation with poets Emily Berry and Will Harris.
“Emerging from the Wonky Animals Competition, 21 Poems about Wonky Animals demonstrates that, great or small, every wonky creature has something to teach us about our own human frailties. Tonight, we’ll celebrate all wonky animals and the humans who love them, with an incredibly varied and dynamic line-up.
Featuring the Wonky Animals Collective – Clare Shaw, Tania Hershman, RENEW PhD Student and poet Caleb Parkin, Kathryn Bevis, Jane Burn, Anna Barker, Di Slaney – alongside Linda France, Sophia Argyris, Vicky Gatehouse, Hannah Stone, Nora Nadjarian, Neil Parkes, Juliette Morton, Mel Pryor, Sarah Zinman, Amber Rollinson, Rob Miles and Leah Larwood.
RENEW Co-Investigator Professor John Wedgwood Clarke is a poet, prose nonfiction writer, editor and academic. John builds creative-critical dialogue and collaborative practices into his writing and teaching and guides the poetic direction of RENEW Theme 2: Community Action.
“Boy Thing is a thing of wonder. These are poems that negotiate anew the tender, hurt territory of a boy abruptly unfathered with every fresh reading; and that travel into the wonderment of becoming a father of boys. We are given a boy’s-eye-view of 1970s Cornwall with a music and detail so meticulous that we yearn with Clarke for its lost territories. But these are not just poems of archive or archaeology; they are revelatory, dynamic and raw. Clarke is crucially attuned to the secret messages received in boyhood – its preoccupations and awakenings, epiphanies and abuses, and its shames. This book is unmissable: human and humane, grimy and sublime.” – Fiona Benson