I have written before about how visual art can inspire environmental action, but today’s column is about one art form in particular: poetry. I recently learned of poetry’s role in communicating climate change and, after doing some discovering (and rediscovering of classics), I’m convinced poetry is a tool that can get people really connected to the environment and climate change action.
Poetry has always sought to captivate and move, as well as inform (it’s believed to be the first form of knowledge passed between people). Whether through emotion or ideas, it has forever been a form of expression of the most deeply held and felt beliefs, passions and fears. In the eyes of poet Philip Sidney, the value of poetry is that it combines philosophy and history in a way that is vivid, compelling and memorable, making it superior to both. This is its strength — to discuss heavy truths in a way that is appealing.
Nature has forever been a major theme in poetry, whether it be the 18/19th century romantics like Wordsworth, Shelley or Keats who glorified nature, or the 19/20th century poets like Whitman, Tennyson and Frost who brought more realism to their poetry. Nature has inspired poets for centuries and continues to do so.
Right now, poetry seems to be experiencing a resurgence. We saw the amazing performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden inauguration and poets like Rupi Kaur are bringing the form to the mainstream once again.
The climate crisis has also provoked many modern poets to write beautiful, moving works that bring attention to the issues that connect us all. And these works are being harnessed for good on a larger scale.
Treehouse Investments, who are dedicated to reversing climate change through the support of sustainable business models that reduce carbon emissions, initiated the Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize in 2019. The founders saw the need to humanise climate change, developing the prize to celebrate poetry’s ability to reveal “our shared humanity … everything we share and everything we put at risk”.
Three years on and the entries continue to be phenomenal. I cannot read 2021 winner Insomniami by Ariel Francisco without tears. And while this prize is for US citizens only, which doesn’t dilute the impact of the works because, after all, this is a global crisis, other environmental poetry (and literature) prizes do exist elsewhere, including the Venie Holmgren Envirommental Poetry Prize here in Australia, currently in its fifth year.
These kinds of responses to climate change are not something we see often in our daily lives, which is a shame because they can provide shared catharsis and act as a balm for the fear and despair we often feel. So why not explore some nature and environmental poetry? Or even try writing some of your own.
Treehouse Climate Action Prize — The American Academy of Poets
10 poems about climate change to read right now — Chicago Review of Books
Climate change poetry — Monash University
How poetry can help us understand the urgency of the climate crisis — The Conversation
Poems to solve the climate crisis — Young Poets Network
Climate change poetry anthology — Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce
Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.