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We’re saying goodbye to the natural world

I think many poets, myself included, are struggling with how to keep writing in the face of the environmental degradation that is looming over us and our children, the beauties and seasons that will be lost, the diversity of flowers and trees and butterflies and fish. These are in danger of vanishing before the words for them do. Poetry is extremely hardy—it was around before the alphabet and will outlast many kinds of human technology. I am robustly optimistic about poetry, but that is maybe the only thing I am optimistic about.

I think a lot about Richard Wilbur’s “Advice to a Prophet”: “Whether there shall be lofty or long-standing / When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.” So much of our language is rooted in the old seasons, and in a miraculous natural world. It is terrifying to think that the language will outlast some of these. On the other hand, I suppose there will be new metaphors, and the poets of the future will find a way forward. – A. E. Stallings

Should writers be political? I think the answer is “yes,” though in many countries being political results in a death sentence or life imprisonment. Each of us does this in our own way. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s hard to ignore the slings and arrows of fads, bad government, and horrible business decisions. However, many of our potential readers say they’re tired of logging on to Facebook and other services, much less the news sites, and seeing a continuous flow of bad news.

I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time, so Stalling’s words resonate with me. My response in my fiction has usually been to celebrate the natural world. Perhaps this is not enough. It appears that more people want to celebrate suburbia than the world as it was created. So, how do writers approach that point of view?

Many writers have focused on climate change. Yet readers seem to think such works are “over the top” and that climate change either isn’t happening, isn’t caused by humankind, or that the worst scenarios won’t play out for hundreds of years. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say how soon the Earth’s environment will collapse. But we’ve been warned, I think. The least writers can do is celebrate the environment and have their fictional characters worry about global chaos.

The best we can do, perhaps, is allowing our characters the opportunity of expressing the kinds of fears we have. This way, we’re not beating our readers over the head with politics and activism. We’re telling stories in which folks have the same worries many of us have. I doubt that most people read stories that sound like a list of the political arguments of the day.  So, unless we have a seriously hardy theme, we need to be careful about how political we are.

Our readers want stories, not political tracts. Yet, we can inject our opinions if we are careful about how we do it.

Malcolm

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