It’s easier to imagine we can grasp climate change when our own weather unsettles us. The icy Beast from the East howled across England as we finalised the call for submissions. We seared through 2,000+ poems while scientists were talking not greenhouse but hothouse. Our summer editorial meeting was interrupted by a London thunderstorm and downpour that drew us to the windows to remind ourselves about rain.
In our call for poems we asked some questions. Looking back to now from a few hundred years ahead – if there are humans to look and literature that’s survived – people might expect to find many climate change poems. But would they? What would such poems be like?
We wanted to find out. This was risky. There’s a hugely welcome buzz around poetry addressing issues of race and sexuality, yet not for climate change – vast, complex, intangible, politicised. It seems redundant to say climate change isn’t just a scientific concern when its scope is no less than total – perhaps we are waiting for human consciousness and behaviours to catch up.
How can poetry not reflect our inadequate response? And how can it find a space, among so much other discourse? Our tradition of nature and eco-poetry hasn’t fully metamorphosed into a poetics of climate change. A poem with designs on the reader tends to fail. Jen Hadfield’s essay, fizzing with language, engages with this dilemma of poetics and protest.
But poetry can say the unsayable, address what’s not visible and observe what is, make stories about where we stand, find connections, tell it slant, make it new… So we asked, and we got: elegies, poems of doubt and despair, flood and drought, fragile encounter with the non-human. Birds retain their ancient role as harbinger or omen. We got poems from places where climate change is causing serious hardship. We got questioning, mischievous poems, and quirky shapes to upend thinking. And science fiction poems – surely one test of our civilisation is our capacity to think deeper, beyond ourselves and this time. Many feel climatic change on an intense, personal level. Karen McCarthy Woolf and Dom Bury’s conversation explores this eloquently and poems such as Helena Lutchman’s show it.
We wanted Magma 72 to have a broad scope, from UK multiculturalism to worldwide contributions, and with room for other languages, comic art and photography. Poems by Patrick Sylvain, Maya Chowdhry and Rebecca Goss show concerns of ecology and identity as indivisible. Conservationist James Pearce-Higgins writes about the extraordinary movement of migratory birds.
Geographer Bill Adams reveals a deep love of poetry. If only poets could move as easily in the opposite direction. We were delighted that Ben Smith, our selected poet, sent in poems worked from earth- modelling science. What would happen if we gave poets access to scientific perspectives? We paired eight poets with conservation scientists working on climate change. We’re very grateful to John Fanshawe at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, to his colleagues who collaborated on a fascinating experiment, and to the Arts Council for their support.
Magma’s Climate Change Issue looks different – see inside back cover for the story. We hope that it presents answers and provocations for what a climate change poem might be, and opens a way for poets and readers to continue thinking and working. Please engage in the debate via the M72 blog.
Climate change brings the gravest of prospects, but also the possibility of reversal. In his encounter with Mount General, Huang Fan writes with simplicity and insight, “If you can turn around, it will prove that you are still calm”.
Matt Howard, Fiona Moore & Eileen Pun, Editors, Magma 72
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