It feels really good to be kicking-off the new year with the launch of an exciting new project, Poems for the Earth. Our aim is that through a series of books, blogs, podcasts and events, we can bring together readers and writers who share a sense of delight and wonder at the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and who are increasingly worried for its survival.
It is evident to many of us that humanity needs to rebalance its relationship with the natural environment, and to recognise that we are part of nature, rather than something separate, or exceptional. To change our behaviour is the most urgent challenge of our times, and requires a way of thinking, feeling and being that is exemplified in the work of the poets we hope to include in this project.
Our plans include a major new anthology called Poems for the Earth, to be published in 2022. This will bring together poets from around the globe, with modern and contemporary work set alongside poems from previous ages. We will also be publishing a series of Poems for the Earth pamphlets by both new and established poets.
This blog is phase one of the project. As editor I shall be sharing some of my discoveries and my thoughts here, building up the contents of the anthology as I go along. I realise that I am only just setting out on a long journey of exploration, hoping to find many brilliant poems from around the world, and from cultures and traditions that will be new to me. I also know that I need help on this journey, and am therefore hoping to use the blog to connect with people who can introduce me to poetry that I haven’t come across before. If you can help with ideas, especially with work that is in a language other than English, please get in touch through the contact form on the website.
An anthology that crosses time and space will by its nature be eclectic and varied, in terms of style, form and approach. I want to discover and celebrate diversity, rather than impose any particular point of view or orthodoxy. At the same time of course, the book needs to work as a whole, and the poems I choose will need to speak to each other and resonate with contemporary readers.
I am looking for poetry of the highest quality that explores and illumines the relationship between humans and the natural world. Poetry with a music strong enough to sustain a sense of wonder and love, or of despair. Some of the poems will be joyful, others will be mournful or angry at the destruction of the natural environment.
Tension between ‘civilization’ and ‘nature’ is a theme running through all literatures, starting with Gilgamesh’s wanton plundering of the great Forest of Cedars in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. Modern readers may well find this episode, in what is sometimes called the world’s first book, more shocking than our predecessors did. Due to rampant deforestation, the beautiful Cedar of Lebanon tree, which was once so widespread in the Middle East, is now listed as a vulnerable species. The moment after the trees have fallen to Gilgamesh’s axe is well captured in Jenny Lewis’s 2018 version of the epic:
The forest screams, and
then falls silent
on Mount Cedar, the deities
stop to listen
Gilgamesh and Enkidu fell
the gods and goddesses
look down in horror.