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Poems inspire at the Biodiversity Parliament

Poems inspire at the Biodiversity Parliament


Published on 16 November 2022

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At our recent Biodiversity Parliament, we were lucky enough to be joined by some of our incoming PhD students, who will be taking up their RENEW posts in January 2023. Among them was Caleb Parkin, former Bristol City Poet 2020-22, who made a hit as the event’s poet-rapporteur.

Using poetic licence in research practice

Caleb will be starting a creative writing practice-as-research studentship aligned with Theme 2 (Community Action) in January 2023, looking at poetic responses to the science of biodiversity renewal and the role of the poet-educator during the biodiversity crisis.

Unbeknownst to many at the Parliament, Caleb was hard at work capturing the essence of the event in poetic form. At the event close, he wowed delegates with a spontaneous performance of two poems that astutely and playfully responded to discussions across the two days. You can read these poems below.

Here’s what Caleb had to say about his creative process:

When I’m writing poems at an event like this, I go into a different ‘mode’ of listening. This often focuses on the poetry already being spoken. For me, this can mean throwaway comments – which can be hugely significant – and dominant metaphors which people are using, often without realising (all of language is a metaphor, really).

Part of poetry’s work, especially in a reflective, reflexive setting like this – is to notice and draw attention to those images, make them new again for the listener (and speaker). I do this by weaving them together and creating a symbolic landscape where they coexist. They’re fragmentary, yes, but somehow carry the energy of the conversations had in that space – with all their jumps, non-sequiturs and asides.

These poems are a reflection of just two of our breakout group’s sessions: there were unseen abundances of poetry, happening elsewhere at the Biodiversity Parliament too. And this spirit of abundance – in our resources, connections, the poetries of our research – is really important, I think. It’s part of nurturing a culture in RENEW which contributes towards more abundant biodiversity in the UK, and beyond.

There is plenty, for human and nonhuman life, when we share it.

A masterful display of poetry’s ability to capture and articulate the social, cultural, and emotional aspects of people’s interactions with each other and the natural world, Caleb’s poems are testament to RENEW’s commitment to establishing a diverse research community that takes a genuinely interdisciplinary approach to understanding and tackling the biodiversity crisis.

If you’d like to find out more about Caleb and his poetry, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @CalebParkin.

Day One:

Act Natural,

everyone. Big enough to be a programme,
but small enough to be a project. Become 
both minnow and heron. Consider 
the personalized ecology of your wings,
your fins, as both are taken in. Are you 
a renewal, a restoration? Will your wings
regrow? Are you rewilding, unwilding – 
a reinstatement, revolution, a Renaissance?

Does your AI reconfigure your KPI, saying:
people-in-nature, nature-in-people, in-
people nature, de-natured people; does it 
network a value, or does it node; do you
know your shoal, pack, flock, herd, colony,
your murmuration? Are you re-newing
bridges, de-newing links, de-nuding bonds
and what are we newing when we re- it?

The land before is Inaccessible Island, populated
with inconvenient mice, a Schrödinger’s paradise
with a subtext of baked-on footprints. The Rocky
theme tune plays from a mobile phone, but there
is no montage, fastforward to a final bell, 
a many-specied specious victory. Frontstage 
in the ring, lights, camera, glossy Wildlife TV.
Backstage: ecology. On-screen: jet-skis,

close-up, CGI injuries, patchy bodies tumble
the rock side into a cacophonous sea. There
do you go to haul out? Where do we go 
not to be seen? Where are we undisturbed
but undisturbing? Dig into the cinders, the ash
of what is happening now: divine this Cinderella
story of soil. The Fairy Godmother waits for
her cues, with her wings, but nobody knows

when midnight it – which glass welly might fit.


Day Two:


Where is the riverbed of Capital,
            the tributaries of cashflow,
                        the gritty maths of it? When is

a job a vocation – a doing, a being? 
            Production at all costs; existential 
                        intensification, the dread of scarcity 

dug ever deeper. The cultures of farming 
            self-propel: which of their tractors chug on
                        to pin-badges on Parliamentary lapels? 

Plant some trees, stop the flood, but
            can you capture those figures, 
                        in buckets, in troughs? A giant donut

rolls towards tomorrow’s overcooked globe,
            an independent body, rumbling with calls
                        from all peoples, future peoples. A tanker

brimming with unrealised ‘dustbin piccalilli’
            lumbers towards India’s shores. Meanwhile,
                        smaller robots scurry the shadows 

of squillion-pound combine harvesters. 
            Genes shift, perhaps to make way 
                        for forests. A menu celebrates 

its GM tomato. What feeds our feeds? 
            A glistening cricket-cake on Bake Off.
                        Which plates are mainstream TV?

Not the extinction debt, flambeed.
            Not the climate emergency, served with
                        a garnish of possibilities. Who tunes in,

knows the language of the land?
            Look: on this channel, academics are
                        parachuting on to farms, trying to 

wrestle the combine’s wheel, 
            its furrow-swerves rich and jagged.

Caleb Parkin, October 2022

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