Two years ago I made a list of poems about climate change that you can read online for free. Since then, news about the climate crisis has only grown more urgent, and the artistic response has been even greater. Responses by poets in particular are deeply moving. They capture the emotional and personal tenors of climate change in ways that few other arts forms can, while also bringing greater attention to the fact that climate change affects everyone and everything–we’re all connected.
As 2019 comes to a close, here’s a new list of climate poems to read. Some will light a fire in your activist belly, while others offer cathartic release. All of them offer an opportunity to reflect on the crisis at hand and consider what it means for ourselves and each other.
“How to Let Go of the World” by Franny Choi
The author of two poetry collections, Franny Choi wrote this segmented prose poem for the PEN Poetry Series. It simultaneously captures feelings of helplessness and fierce love. It’s a must-read for anyone in need of interrogating personal feelings on the climate crisis.
“Particulate Matter” by Molly Fisk
Fisk, who was recently named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, currently serves as the poet laureate of Nevada County, California. In 2018 her home state was ravaged by the historical Camp Fire, which destroyed homes and lives. In this poem, published on poets.org, she captures the devastating aftermath of that fire.
“Letter to Noah’s Wife” by Maya C. Popa
In this searching poem, Popa asks the wife of Noah: “Was it you
who gathered flowers once the earth had dried?” The poem, published on poets.org, expresses in beautiful and haunting imagery feelings of helplessness and uncertainty.
“Warned” by Sylvia Stults
In this deceptively simply poem, Stults gets at some of the deepest and most complex questions of climate change: who to blame and how to move forward. Published at familyfriendpoems.com.
“Evening” by Dorianne Laux
Many works of climate-themed art touch upon human suffering, but in “Evening,” published on poets.org, Laux illuminates the devastating effects of climate change on the natural world. A very moving work by a poet of exquisite skill.
“A Plastic Theatre” by Katie Schaag
This script-poem unveils the various agents of plastic production while capturing in compelling prose the reasons why humans continue to rely so heavily on the material. Published at imaginedtheatres.com
“Metallic Reefs” by Sam Illingworth
The editor of A Sonnet to Science, Illingworth wrote “Metallic Reefs” after being inspired by scientific research on how metal pollutants are endangering coral reefs. A gorgeous poem about a brutal subject.
“Comprador” by Mark Steven
Published this year in Protean magazine, “Comprador” throws down the gauntlet in its argument that “industry” is a code word for “extinction.”
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier (after Wallace Stevens)” by Craig Santos Perez
A native Chamorro from Mongmong, Guam, Perez’s poetry focuses on climate change, environmentalism, and colonialism, linking large systemic issues with the small, everyday people, objects, animals, and events we all experience. In this gorgeous poem, he makes clear that the biodiversity of earth is interconnected in vital ways, and that the degradation of one kind of life leads to the degradation of all life. Published on poets.org.
“Some Effects of Global Warming in Lackawanna County” by Jay Parini
“The maples sweat now, out of season.” That’s the first line of this poem by Parini, published at poets.org, which wrestles with the uncanniness of a world wherein even the formerly predictable cycles of the seasons have grown haywire due to climate change.
Our interview with poet Kristin George Bagdanov about her collection of environmental poetry, Fossils in the Making.
Our review of two climate-themed poetry collections out this year.
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.