Book of the year. Peter Wadhams (2016) A Farewell to Ice. A Report From the Arctic.

blue planet.jpg

A writer has one imperative, or simple rule – read. Often I have little understanding of what I’m reading. Usually there is a but here. I do not understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but…kinda like a meme from T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding: ‘We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started.’ Or Rumi’s parable of the elephant and six blind men. One holding onto a leg, or trunk, an ear, and explaining to the other what in the world stands true. Wadhams’ A Farewell to Ice is a familiar tale and it is distilled into a line of poetry he quotes from mystic Francis Thompson: ‘Thou canst not stir a flower/Without troubling of a star’.

Like Jonah preaching to the Ninevites and warning them they have forty days, Wadhams is telling us much the same thing about the accelerating effects of Arctic Feedbacks on our once blue planet. He is not giving us forty days, but perhaps forty years and we’re pretty much gubbed, sackcloth and ashes.

The trigger is fossil fuels, measured in parts per million, and what he is saying is mankind has already fired the bullet. I employ a simple rule of thumb, when a pessimist is also a realist, usually he’s right. Think of Thomas Piketty Capital documenting how after the end of the 1970s money flowed at increasing rates from the poor to the rich in the developed world. Like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, I don’t need to know all the details. I can believe it is true, or not, which is an act of faith. But Piketty as an economist showed us how he got to where he is and said, very simply, prove me wrong. Wadham does the same. Here is my data and here is my message: ‘We must not only go to zero emissions, we must actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere’ (italics around text are Wadhams’). He suggests a real danger with hundreds of millions starving, and also  the possibility of nuclear war.

What Wadhams didn’t factor in was the Donald Trump factor and the appointment of former General ‘Mad Dog’ Maddis as United States Defense Secretary, or the President Elect’s provocation with China over the sovereignty of South Korea even before he takes office. We live in interesting times.

But Wadhams is on more familiar ground with his outing of ‘The Black Tide of Denial’ and how fossil fuel interests have taken a hatchet to budgets and attempted to discredit those that support the claims of global warming in the same way that Communists were thought to be under every bed in the McCarthy era. Wadham gives several examples of attacks on himself and other scientists, but perhaps the best example comes from Jamie Doward, The Observer, ‘How the trolling of a tech pioneer reveals a new assault on climate science’: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/04/elon-musk-trolling-us-conservatives-green-tech

Wadham could not have predicted prior to publication this year that the trolls that produced such propaganda would not only try to influence decisions about climate change, but would be appointed as judges of what was right and wrong. All that ‘green crap’ referred to by David Cameron is dead in the water. An analogy would be fifty years ago appointing directors of the big five tobacco companies as independent advisors of whether there was a link between smoking and cancer. The difference now, of course, is we’ve not got fifty years. The enemy is at the door now. And our blue planet does not care what you believe, or whether you believe it is right or wrong. The earth will keep turning. One million years is not the equivalent of a minute in the day. Pseudo-science and greed has given voice and grown arms and legs. Perhaps reason will meet sense, but I doubt it. We are too far down the path. As above, so below and all parts are interconnected.

Listen to a quote in Wadhams from a voice of reason, scientist and Professor Robert P. Abele.

As we inflict violence on the planet to the point of mortality, we inflict violence on ourselves, to the point of our mortality. A dead planet will result in dead people, and a people and/or its leaders who are psychologically and/or ethically desensitized to the consequences of this Terran violence have no chance of long-term survival.

Read this book. Share this post. Ask a simple question: what can we do?

Poetry Week on BBC

in their own words

Helen Ivory and George Szirtes (eds) (2012) In Their Own Words Contemporary Poets on Their Poetry.

It’s poetry week on BBC 4. Last night I watched a drama that uses Simon Armitage’s poetry to dramatize the life and death of Sophie Lancaster in 2007. She and her lanky boyfriend were attacked in a park by a group of feral boys. Their attackers shoe prints and the pattern of their laces were left embedded in Sophie’s head. Black roses were the imprints of the bruising on her body. She died in hospital; her boyfriend survived. Their crime was to be different. To be Goths was their putative death sentence.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b055kpfm/black-roses-the-killing-of-sophie-lancaster

There’s a vast ocean of words, nouns, adjectives, prepositions and alliteration, pushing and pulling with powerful undertows, but very little of it washes up on BBC, or is generally read. The days of carrying poetry in our head is long gone. School syllabus shepherds survivors to A level and sometimes beyond, but rarer still does the bond survive, a C grade, or less, it sinks, it stinks and who is to blame for making poetry so flint hard and insufferable its only eggheads that gain immortal fame. I must admit here I am to blame.

I can’t tell the difference between carrots or poetry. But these contemporary poets can. They offer words of wisdom. Every prose writer should read this book. Open it at random (even though there’s no such thing):

            [Helen Mort]I’d been reading Rilke earlier in the day and had set off running with an idea, or rather with a set of questions in my mind – what would beauty look like personified? Would it be a terrifying thing?  The poem’s first line (or form) came to me about a mile into the run, and from then on narrative began to present itself, led by the rhymes (which were insistent early on).

[Rilke] Beauty…is nothing but the beginning of terror.

[Helen Mort] When beauty stumbled down my road, tapped on my door

I saw her from the lounge and hid – her eyes were raw

from smoke, her cheeks like risen dough from where she’d wept

and worse I didn’t like the company she kept:

a red-faced drunk who towed a dachshund on a string.

I like this. I appreciate what Helen Mort is saying, but like many others I’m no initiate or intimate with the language of poetry. My response is often what’s it got to do with me? Or indeed the likes of me. T.S. Eliot that great pillar of the poetry establishment life may have been measured in teaspoons and church candles, but I don’t understand the man or his work. And to me it is work, reading poetry. The contemporary poets in this collection do make sense to me. Perfect sense.  But here’s the rub, there commentaries of how and why make sense, but when it comes to poems on the page, there’s no aha moment, no heavy water that blows me away. There’s sometimes lines stringed together that was quite nice. Bravo old boy or girl. Sometimes I think I’ve opened a Chinese cracker and I’m reading it upside down and the answer will come to me. Poetry like prose washes through and sometimes over you. Poetry should change the world, but it doesn’t. That’s a familiar pattern. Something we should recognise, but don’t. I guess God or Old Possum knows. I’ll need to begin reading this good book again. Maybe one day, I pray, I’ll understand poetry.