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Ecology & Poetry

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

I've enjoyed taking part in SEDA's Land Conversations as an invited artist, earlier this year. I feel poetry is a brilliant way to bridge the gap between art and science (or, between science and society as a whole).

It's not just that there's something both mathematical and artistic about a poem itself - that combination of logical structure, of pattern, with images and sounds - but also that it gives me a way to talk about ecology in a form that acknowledges something more than a purely material relationship. This was always something that had slightly bothered me, when studying Ecological Science at university, back in '93 (I switched to Social Anthropology at the end of 2nd year): obviously, there's a need for scientific study, but it seemed there was little consideration of factors like the ecological importance of human society and culture, or, on the other hand, of the ways that our relationship with our natural environment impacts us, socially, culturally, and personally (spiritually).

It's unfortunate that we divide these disciplines up, so that the scientific study of the natural world is separated from the study of how we as human beings relate to the natural world. So I'm not saying Anthropology was perfect - where Ecological Science only considered 'Nature' in the context of science, Anthropology only considered 'Nature' in the context of society and culture - but at least it acknowledged the place of science.

It's brilliant that the James Hutton Institute, which co-organised these Land Conversations with SEDA, brings together scientists and social scientists. I love, too, the way that SEDA (the Scottish Ecological Design Association) brings together ecological awareness with very human factors and issues: from the sort of design that can make us feel different about life, and the world around us; to how we process waste.

I'd always written poems for my own pleasure, and had my first poem published in 2006. That was 'Antarctica' (a poem about global warming), in Product Magazine. I felt that here was a way to express things that I can't express otherwise. Poetry enables us as writers to combine the two sides of our brain perhaps more than any other form, and that's what I think I like about it. I like the way that the restrictions of the pattern, however loose they are, can push you toward ideas and images that otherwise might have stayed out of your reach. It makes me think, and it makes me begin to understand my feelings. It enables me to bring together my academic worries and my emotional reactions. I was (and am) very worried and distressed about global warming and about the huge imbalance in our relationship with the natural world.

Clockwork World is a long poem about energy, land, oil (and our place in the universe!). I read this poem for the SEDA Land Conversations this year (it had had its first outing at an event for the University of the Highlands and Islands, under the title 'An Independence of Depending Parts'). I was also working on a new poem about food when I was invited to take part, and so that poem became a part of the programme too. That is the shorter poem 'Bread', which I've shared here on the 'Poetry' section of my website. In addition, myself and Chris Powici were invited to write two new poems (one each) that relate to a future vision for ecology and land use in Scotland. These poems will appear in the report.

It has been invigorating to take part in a conference that brought together people from so many different disciplines, different interest groups, and different kinds of lives (with all the wide range of experience that that implies). I feel this is exactly the kind of way our country needs to have its conversations, if we're going to come together to tackle climate change. It can't be something that's in one niche. It has to be something we talk about together, and changing the way we relate to the land (as well as to each other) is a big part of that.

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