A chapbook by:
KIM GOLDBERG KATE BRAID
CATHERINE OWEN HEIDI GRECO
Eco-poetry is at once aesthetic and political, because it counterposes the beauty and power of the natural environment against the depradations and destructions caused by human industrial societies.
Its aim is to nurture feelings and attitudes that enhance and encourage political action required to rescue the planet and all of its biological life from impending wreckage and burnout caused by human economic action.
Eco-poetry therefore integrates climate science, biology, nomenclature of lost and threatened species, political commentary, and many other factors to bring together an all-sided vision of the interface between the natural non-human and the human mechanical/industrial, which threatens to overwhelm our planet.
Often enough, eco-poetry enacts the apocalyptical drama of the imminent or on-going industrial destruction of the natural biosphere against the background of a nostalgic pastoral narrative.
“... there is no universally accepted definition of ‘eco-poetry,’” Kim Goldberg writes in her introduction to this new chapbook. In the interests of “showing rather than telling,” the four female poets contained in the chapbook decided to “...show you what each of us considers eco-poetic in our own practice.”
The result of their welcome collaboration is a small and attractive showcase displaying widely different poetic styles and sensibilities of four British Columbian female poets, each with a different approach to their common environmental theme.
As a book featuring poems by women only, Igniting the Green Fuse seems equally to suggest a second, feminist, political dimension alongside its environmental message. If the green fuse that metaphorically sets off explosive nature in the Dylan Thomas poem can be ignited by human agency, is this task in some way especially assigned to women? The question remains implicit rather than being explicitly answered here. Yet implicitly the fact that women are speaking to this issue and are speaking together, contains its own meaning in relation to the past and the future of the environmental movement.
The work of Kim Goldberg typically spans the gap between literary activity and social act. As the first poet in the book, she launches her patented rush of smart and vital energy, a flash of explosive imagery in which words that traditionally act as signifiers of poetry and lyrical pastorality are ironically undercut by descriptions of the mangling of living things by destructive industrial power.
The salty air packed tight today with sirens’ wail
in Japanese markets, while the yawning emptiness of our elections
echoes in the darkened hold to be later stripped and sold
as fish bait. We watched the shooting stars cascade into
a diesel-flowered meadow binding all our heads, beating
while it burned until the stench and smoky spew
was traded for the flickerflash of atomic churn.
Bravely breaking gender barriers, Kate Braid for 15 years earned her living as a professional carpenter, from which she embraced a practical attitude toward lumber, made from trees. Lumber is made from natural trees, and Braid discovers and uncovers something sacred not only in the natural wood itself, but in the productive relationship between herself, a human maker, and her natural materials:
...your spirit stares
and sees what is between the trees
any carpenter would understand.
It is the reason that we build things.
Looks like air to some,
fresh breeze, a touch of chill
It is the spirit of the tree.
Now I know who you are.
Another woman who loves wood.
A common ground in the love of nature and its beauties belongs to all these poets. Catherine Owen is a modernist poet with a romantic gothic dramatic bent, perhaps best expressed by the fact that she chooses the crow as her totem animal. Most recently, she writes as a river dweller from an apartment above the Fraser River in south Vancouver, thriving on the juxtapositions between destructive human activity and the irrepressible drive of animal and vegetable life to flourish and continuously grow in the face of every effort of human civilization to contain and bury it:
Thick winch of ripped rope at the base of a rusted bolt,
Beside it, a skimpy alder sapling,
all sprouting from a relic of fallen log, saw marks chunked with dirt
& clover. These the juxtapositions I live for....
(Fraser River, Thanksgiving 2011)I especially like the apparently casual and colloquial asides in Owen’s poems, where the full meanings suddenly appear in apparently offhand way:
– why not keep
Just the tiny breathing apparatus – the crows do – tumbling from the parapets –
Black chutes sagging open – go river! Go river! – I’m cheering mostly
For the water now – loving how it’s always moving past me.
(I feel the tree’s grief – why can’t I say this)
Heidi Greco envisions a world where industrial/consumer society and culture tames and overwhelms nature with its organization and civilization and defiles it with its detritus and its bland containing order:
The shortcuts and byways have all been replaced
by squared off yards smoothed flat with lawns, trimmed
in conventional styles – just so many haircuts in a row.
Everyone lies awake at night, aligned in their king-size beds,
clutching remotes instead of each other, warmed
by the flickering light that shines like a squared off moon in the night,
And all the while the people keep dreaming, tired but open-eyed,
trying to think up one more gadget to buy.
(The Dreams We Take For Silence)
The urban landscape of consumer detritus, cigarette butts, paper coffee cups and empty bottles swept up in alleys by gleaners in the dark, also ends with a mock apocalypse:
5 leggy dandelions, golden
of throat, leaning back, set to play
some final trumpet blast.
(Walking Inventory, November)
This book intends to help provoke something more prosaic -- political activity to bring social change on the environmental front. It’s deliberately a small and modest production, a simple chapbook only, and only a single drop in the huge bucket of activity required toward the solution of this most pressing issue facing all humanity. But every drop can be made to count. Readers already fans of these four poets, as I am, will enjoy its content and style, and for those who aren’t already fans, this chapbook is an excellent place to start the process of coming to know their work.
Igniting the Green Fuse: Four Canadian Women Poets
produced in 100 copies from Above & Beyond Productions, March 2012.
Copies are available by contacting individual authors.
Authors may be contacted on Facebook or on their individual websites.
Jamie Reid May 24, 2012
Note: photos, except for book cover photos, are mostly by the poets themselves.