Thankfully, it was a beautifully sunny day in Bristol on Saturday, which really helped us appreciate nature at its finest in preparation for the Nature Writing Day at Watershed. ‘Writers and the Natural World’ introduced a panel of very talented and varied nature poets who provided us with their views on the environment, poetry as an art, and the writers who inspired them.
(L-R: John Burnside, Ruth Padel, Jean Sprackland, Paul Farley)
Bristol inspired Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and it is a pleasure to see such stunning poetry still written today from our panel of nature poets. Ruth Padel, who most recently wrote a collection of poems titled Learning To Make An Oud In Nazareth, argued that ‘poetry is fiercely precise’, and indeed this is shown in her poem about the “planets largest migration” of jellyfish. She looks through a scientist’s lens, but combines this beautifully with delightful imagery. One line in particular stood out when she described the jellyfish migration: ‘They are stars, flowering to the surface’. Padel created a strong impression with her views on poetry as an art form rather than being utilised to vent about environmental issues. This was strongly supported by the other poets, although there are elements of protest in some of the poems read aloud.
Jean Sprackland’s poem ‘The Birkdale Nightingale’, explores the breeding of the natterjack toad which is a species in great decline since being eradicated from the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport. Sprackland combined a documentary style voice with a sense of Romanticism: ‘The nuptial pads on his thighs/velcro him to her back. She steadies beneath him./The puddle brims with moonlight./Everything leads to this’. She urged us to assess what part we play in the ecosystem, and how we can help it along. Similarly, John Burnside asked us to appreciate our encounters with nature within our busy lives in his poem ‘Arctic Life’, in which he describes a simple moment in which he is practically face to face with an Arctic fox. He turned this moment into something very profound, creating a sense of solidarity with nature. Paul Farley on the other hand, used an interesting conversational tone in his poem ‘The Heron’, creating this sense of witty human-nature within the bird: ‘f***ing hell, all right, all right, I’ll go the garage for your flaming fags’.
Overall, this was a very invigorating talk which touched upon environmental issues such as wind turbines destroying wildlife areas, the horrors of hunting for financial gain, and the treatment within tiger reserves. When targeting these issues, these poets stressed the need to avoid being ‘preachy’, as the main point of poetry is to hold life up to a light and celebrate it. Burnside argued that you have the freedom to write an angry poem, it just has to be well crafted. Padel added that the tone of the poem is most important when making a strong point. Their poems certainly highlight the beauties of nature, but also stress the importance of preserving it. At the end of the talk, Burnside summed it up perfectly: ‘We only become fully human, fully realised if we look after the world in which we live’, and that is exactly what this talk has inspired me to do.