Poetry Review: 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Book: 100 Poems to Save the EarthHow can poetry ‘save the earth’? The introduction to this anthology explains that the title is intentionally provocative, because ‘our crisis is fundamentally a crisis of perception’. And that is where poetry comes in. It is only when you read the poems that it becomes clear what this might mean. This is not just an anthology of eco-poems. It includes poems that examine humanity as well as nature. Poems that interrogate the very concept of exploitation and inequality. Poems that acknowledge their own ignorance.  

More than anything else, this is an anthology where you’ll find exquisite beauty and wonder side by side with thoughtful provocation. There are poems, such as ‘Limpet & Drill-Tongued Whelk’ that zoom in on the minute details of flora and fauna that so often go unobserved and un-applauded:

Across the rockpool floor, a limpet grazes –
a stray magician’s cup,
moon-textured, the shape of light
pointing through frosted glass.

Similarly, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ by Wendell Berry reminds us of how much we need the blessings of nature, in ways that we often take for granted:

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

And then there are poems that delve into the ecological narrative. In ‘Trophic Cascade’ by Camille T. Dungy, the words reveal what happens when we adjust our perspective to long term thinking, stepping back from the human-focused world for a brief moment. It is true that ‘the re-introduction of grey wolves’ at Yellowstone National Park led to an abundance of changes affecting every aspect of the environment, in ways that benefit both animals and humans. This incredible fact is turned into an incredible poem.

Then there are more emotive poems, such as ‘Glory’ by Gbenga Adesina, a poem that makes you think and wonder at the same time:

Glory of plums, femur of Glory.
Glory of ferns
on a dark platter.

Glory of willows, Glory of Stag beetles
Glory of the long obedience
of the kingfisher.

Other poems acknowledge the almost impossible nature of the task we face. I particularly liked ‘Prayer’ by Grahame Davies, which reflects on the importance of ‘the unnoticed acts / that keep the world moving / slowly closer to the light’.

Cath Drake’s ‘How I Hold the World in the Climate Emergency’ does something similar, as it reflects on the feeling of enormity that many people face:

Sometimes I hold world in one hand, my life
in the other and I get cricks in my neck
as the balance keeps swinging. I walk uneasily.

Sometimes I am bent over with the sheer weight of world,
eyes downcast, picking up useful things from the ground.

Moving through the anthology, the poems begin to focus more on the fragility of the natural world and its human inhabitants. There is a sense of increasing urgency and imminent danger, particularly in the final few pages. These are poems that call us to action, before it is too late.

Here are some lines from ‘Water of Ae’ by Em Strang, compelling us to appreciate the beauty of nature before it is destroyed:

Don’t wait to walk out along the back roads
to the boggy fields where the swans are.
You can cross the river at the small bridge
and walk, a walk you’ve walked for ten years
every day, even when the rain’s on hard
and the wind’s tearing at you. Don’t wait
thinking you’ve seen it already –
the flooded fields, the brown river,
the white swans…

This is an anthology which celebrates the diversity of humanity and the diversity of nature. It showcases an abundance of poetic styles and a variety of approaches to writing about our fragile earth and its complex ecology. The poems speak to each other; they declare themselves to be real, honest and human.

100 Poems to Save the Earth, edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, is published by Seren Books.

Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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