The idea for a special issue on dwelling didn’t emerge at a desk or on a computer screen, but in a unique and remarkable place: Kenfig Nature Reserve. These coastal dunes in south Wales conceal a buried medieval castle and a once thriving market town, now lost to the encroaching sands. In that wild sanctuary, questions of climate change as well as our relation to the natural world and to each other, are impossible to ignore.
Back then, the world was a different place. We knew the questions we wanted to ask, but we didn’t know how important they would become. We didn’t know that this issue would be edited and published during a global pandemic, the like of which has not been seen for 100 years. We didn’t foresee lockdown, isolation, turmoil, unrest, protest, loneliness, loss, illness. We didn’t know that we would be asked to live differently, more distantly, eschewing touch in order to keep each other safe.
The pandemic has called for huge sacrifices. It has forced us to question how we have been living, and how we will be asked to live in the future. Will we continue to exploit and shrink the ‘other-than- human’ world? How far are we willing to allow technology to control our lives, our bodies? How can we continue in a society where BIPOC people are terrorized by our institutions? We must imagine something else, something healthier, for us all.
The idea of dwelling poses a possible alternative: of living in a place without possessing, exploiting or dominating it, but treating it as a person in its own right. Can a river be considered a person? Dwelling also speaks to our relationships with others, striving to ensure that people are not treated as objects to be controlled.
In this issue, our writers have risen to the challenge with kaleidoscopic variety. Jen Hadfield’s ‘Living in Fear’ escapes lockdown to explore the Shetland Isle of Foula, confronting the terror of vertigo in mountains on the edge of the world. Polly Atkin challenges what ecological writing might look like from the perspective of writers with disability. An interview with Roger Robinson finds a metaphor for abuse of power via lockdown time spent in his backyard. In our Inspired section, Vidyan Ravinthiran discusses Andrew Marvell, intergenerational trauma, and optimism amid our limitations, among much else.
This issue also features poets from the U.S. whose poems emerged from conversations with environmental scientists. These include established voices in the U.S., and also voices that may be new to U.K. readers: Ruth Awad, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kathy Fagan and Khaty Xiong.
Since the pandemic began, we three editors – dwelling in the USA, Wales, Scotland – have read thousands of submitted poems, most written in lockdown. Each was a unique and inimitable snapshot of how poets all over the world are striving to make sense of these unprecedented times.
Zoë Brigley, Kristian Evans and Rob A. Mackenzie