Contemporary poetry is increasingly a site where the brutality of neoliberal politics is being contested. The three poems below illustrate the ways in which the culture-nature relationship is being rewritten. Nature in these poems is not separate from human experience; it is not a site for romantic contemplation or rural escape. Here, our relationship with the planet is written as emotionally and politically connected to the way we live on a daily basis. These poems are charged with pain, both in their content and their form.
Clare Pollard's powerful 'The Oil' is a prose poem. On the page its thick shape mimics an oil slick. Its images grow in a rhythmic force, reflecting the increasing death grip of the ecological disaster.
In James Goodman's 'Slash Poem' endangered animals are separated from mundane and aspirational consumer items by a slash. Here, the slash functions to reflect lacerating capitalist policies as species are cut in order to make room for the market and its attendant lifestyle choices. The poignancy of the species' vulnerability reaches its climax in the last line as 'the best before date' reveals the planet's own expiration.
'Greening' by Kate Potts imagines a future where we experience 'exaggerated seasonal die-off'. Like the other two poems, the power of 'Greening' comes from its easily locatable everyday descriptions: vitamin C, jogging, bunting. The recurring 'we' draws us into a social connection with the planet where drowsy sex, city parks and stockpiles are inextricably linked to shrinking wheatfields and the crisis of climate change.
In these poems ecological emergency is part of daily life; it's Thomas Tank Engine pencil cases, Youtube videos and lager drinking. These poems are angry but they are also suffused with a heartbreaking bewilderment: 'what do we do now?' they seem to ask.
'The Oil' is published in Changeling (Bloodaxe, 2011). 'Greening' is published in the anthology, Drifting Down the Lane (Moon and Mountain, 2013). [End Page 108]
is all stealth at first, hushed and lovely, a soft shifting shape in the deep; an expensive silk scarf loosed from a throat, groomed hair, ink scrawling an autograph, signing a pre-nup. In the aquamarine the plush gush has a caviar gleam, the colour of sultry night when we sprawl on our decks near Cannes or Mustique, hear liquidity lapping the hulls of our yachts. But then, it is suddenly not - it's morning and noticed and cameras are focused, and now the leak's writhing like shoals of suffering fish; like death in gulls' guts or bad debt. It's the spill of the ash from the second tower; a disgorging Helmand bomb; smoke's pour through the Underground. And we say concern ... heartbroken ... keenly aware ... and besides, we've the cure - we have solvent, explosives, concrete, a saw. But we know, don't we? We know it's not true - we know that we can't put it back. What mortal could catch such a god -such omnipotent, muscular black? And see, see: how the slick spreads quick as denial or deforestation or AIDS or Al-Qaeda; as blood from the weapons expert's wrist; as blood's foul race across Neda's face in that YouTube clip [End Page 109]
Clare was born in Bolton in 1978 and lives in London. Her fourth collection Changeling (2011) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and her latest book is a translation of Ovid's Heroines (2013).
Clouded Leopard/car batteryGiant Salamander/stainless steel cafetiereMilitary Orchid/5mm masonry bitScatter of Military Orchids/full set of masonry bits
Nine-banded Armadillo/6 of MichelobEchidna/sun-sharp pint of AmstelAlligator Mississipiensis/Thomas the Tank Engine pencil caseBeluga/off-peak day-return to London St Pancras
Kihansi Spray Toad/withered bootlaceMekong Giant Salmon Carp/lime green polo shirtNorth Atlantic Cod/fake Louis Vuitton handbagEmerald-chinned Hummingbird/best before end Aug 12
Eurasian Badger/hand-held shaving mirrorLake Victoria Deepwater Catfish/Range Rover EvoqueMalabar Civet/four kitchen scourersPersian Sturgeon/use by 01/11/11 [End Page 110]