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Of Trees and Tygers and Catastrophe

March 25, 2019

Blackthorn and barbed wire

What an inspiring day! The March meeting of Bath Writers and Artists was co-chaired by Sue Boyle and Peter Reason. Sue began the morning workshop by reading a thoughtful and passionate essay by Chrissy Banks, “The Place of Poetry in a Time of Catastrophe”. Are we fiddling, she asks, while real people burn?

Peter introduced the Climate Lens Playbook, a tool for writers and performers, to help us effectively tackle this difficult subject. We heard four very different pieces of work from members of the group, and discussed them in the light of some of the precepts of the Climate Lens. Claire Coleman read Edwin Muir’s “The Horses“. We then performed, entirely without rehearsal or even reading in advance, three longer pieces. I had the pleasure of hearing, for the first time, part of a script I’m currently writing about the Circle of Trees at the Dove, read beautifully by nine volunteers. Eileen Cameron and five others read her compelling sequence “Giant Clam”, which I’d love to see in print as a mini-pamphlet. Lastly we heard “The Building of Kelston Barn”, a lovely collaborative poem, some of whose authors were present.

Peter rounded off the morning with two poems he had set to music.


The afternoon session was open to the public, who turned up in satisfyingly large numbers to fill the Elwin Room at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute. The first speaker was Conor Whelan, current occupier of the Bardic Chair of Bath. Conor began with a recitation of Blake’s poem (above) and continued with stories and photos from his four months of teaching in a village school within Ranthambore Wildlife Sanctuary. I was left with the feeling that the slaughter of tigers by poachers will stop only when the demand for tiger body-parts ceases. The education of local children may help to ensure that they grow up with more in the way of career options than subsistence farming and poaching.

The afternoon programme was punctuated with songs from Miranda Pender.

Peter Reason introduced a showing of the film “Rise” a powerful collaboration between two poets affected differently by the effects of climate change, in Greenland and the Marshall Islands. This is the work that we hope will prompt new writing to bring to the 20th July meet-up.

Two short presentations followed, in which Ali Bacon introduced her novel “In the Blink of an Eye”, and Ann Cullis gave a slide-show with readings showing how the city of Bath has changed over the last few centuries.

Conor then performed his poem “Forget the Universe”, which led us into new ways of seeing the whole in its smallest part.

This was followed by Flory Wisdom and friends reading from her sequence of poems “The Weep of a City”, a stellar debut from a very young and very talented poet.

Lastly, Susan Jane Sims, known to us as the woman behind Poetry Space, read from her pamphlet “Splitting Sunlight“, written during her son Mark’s remarkable journey through terminal illness at a heartbreakingly early stage in his career as a doctor. I think we were just too choked-up to join in with Miranda’s reprise of “Where have all the Flowers Gone”.

I came home with an altered (less anthropocentric, I hope) perspective and a heightened awareness of “hyper-objects”: things that are everywhere but too big to see — like anthropocentricity and other habits of thinking and feeling that lead, not deliberately but inevitably, to disaster. I think I have already demonstrated that I can morph into a fictional post-apocalyptic unicellular extremophile, but it’s time to face the apocalypse head-on and do something about it. The expression it’s not the end of the world has gained a horrible new relevance.

Posted by Ama Bolton 25th March 2019

2 Comments leave one →
  1. baddenoch257 permalink
    April 2, 2019 8:36 am

    What a wonderful summing up of the day. I just wish I could have stayed for the afternoon. I too loved the fact of hearing my six poems on the one theme read together for the first time. I found your two poems about your father’s experience very moving.

  2. April 2, 2019 8:36 pm

    Thank you Eileen. I hope we’ll meet again.

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