It would be difficult to write a “Burning Worlds” column this month and not mention the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Our thoughts are with you, Houston.
As climate change continues to wreak havoc on populations across the United States and around the globe, writers are fighting back with words that haunt, inspire, and in the best of all possible cases, provoke to action.
Previous installments of “Burning Worlds” have focused primarily on novels and short-story collections, but this month I’m offering a round-up of poetry — great poetry — that addresses climate change. Poetry that investigates human relationships with the natural world isn’t new, of course. Indeed, poets working in both Western and Eastern traditions have long been invested in the topic. The poets whose work I link to today extend and examine those traditions, each working in a different style. Moreover, these poets come from nations around the world, bringing with them a unique perspective on climate change.
All of the poems linked to here are free to read online, and all are worth your time.
[Read our updated list here.]
“A Language of Change” by David Sergeant
In 2015, The Guardian asked UK poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to curate twenty poems about climate change. This poem by David Sergeant was one of them. In this poem, the speaker sits by the ocean and wrestles with mixed feelings of love and horror at its power and potential to destruct. Sergeant is the author of two poetry collections and has published additional work in Poetry Ireland, Poetry Review, and Rialto.
“Silent Sea” by Rachael Boast
Boast was born in Suffolk and currently lives in Scotland and the West Country. Sidereal, her first collection, won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry in 2012. This poem, another in Duffy’s curated series for The Guardian, evokes imagery from both the natural and manmade worlds.
“Ovid on Climate Change” by Eliza Griswold.
Eliza Griswold is the author of two books, the poetry collection Wideawake Field (2007) and a work of non-fiction, The Tenth Parallel. Her work has also appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and the New Republic. In this provocative poem, she re-imagines the Ovid myth. You can read an interview with Griswold about this poem here.
“X” by Imtiaz Dharker
Another in the Guardian series, “X” hums with a nervous energy that makes climate change feel personal. Dharker is a Pakistan-born British poet and author of at least six books. She is also the recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for her English poetry.
Two sonnets by Craig Santos Perez
Published in the New Republic earlier this year, these two sonnets reimagine both love and the act of professing it through the language of landscape and climate change. Perez is a poet from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam and the co-founder of Ala Press. He is the author of two poetry collections, the winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry, and is now an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa.
“The Solace of Artemis” by Paula Meehan
Meehan is a poet and playwright from Dublin. She is the author of nine collections of poetry and ten plays. She has also won multiple awards, including the PPI Award for Radio Drama, Best Play, in 2005. In this melancholic poem, another from the Guardian series, Meehan opens with thoughts of a polar bear.
“A Radiant Romance” by Matt Harvey
In 2014, Harvey, a poet from the U.K., published The Element in the Room, a whimsical collection inspired by renewable energy. This post from artistsandclimatechange.com contains several snippets from that collection and “A Radiant Romance,” a poem about solar energy, in its entirety. Harvey is the author of three other collections of poems and hosts his own mini-series on Radio 4 in the U.K.
“Utilomar” by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner
Jetnil-Kijiner is a Marshallese poet and performance artist who in 2014 was asked to address the UN Climate Summit in New York City. Many of her poems, including “Dear Matafele Peinem,” discuss the threats that climate change poses to the Marshall Islands. In “Utilomar,” the poet articulates how climate change affects both her island home and the mainland.
Want more? The U.K.’s Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) published this terrific collection of poems in concert with its climate change awareness event in 2015. You can learn more about that event, the RSA in general, and download the poems by clicking here.
Burning Worlds is Amy Brady’s monthly column dedicated to examining trends in climate change fiction, or “cli-fi,” in partnership with Yale Climate Connections.
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Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.