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Simon Armitage: Poets can fight climate crisis by making us spellbound by nature
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Simon Armitage: Poets can fight climate crisis by making us spellbound by nature

Poets can help fight climate breakdown by making us “spellbound, full of wonder and beguiled” by nature, the poet laureate has said.

Simon Armitage, who pledged to dedicate his writing and thinking to environmental issues when he was appointed poet laureate in 2019, has written a new book of poems called Blossomise, which he hopes will remind readers of the beauty of nature.

Asked at the Hay festival in Powys about the role of poets in communicating the threat of climate breakdown, he said: “We do what we can. My feeling about this book is it’s slightly different from my other work in that there’s a lot of praise and wonder in it.

“I think if we are spellbound and full of wonder and beguiled by nature we’re just less likely to want to destroy it, we’ll carry on wanting to preserve it. That’s my approach.

“I wanted to celebrate and to recognise blossom as an incredibly joyful thing but I also wanted to write about the way the weather is upside down and the climate and the environment are in peril, and that blossom, just the fact it’s coming at the wrong time of year or twice of year, is a gesture and a symbol and an indication of some of those problems.”

He said he started writing verse because of Ted Hughes, who was originally seen as a nature poet but is now often understood as an environmental poet, and he had been inspired by the way “the main thing he did was to create wonder in those poems”.

“You can’t be a nature writer these days without getting into those issues, you’d be in denial, you’d just be a cultural watercolourist if you weren’t prepared to take those issues on,” Armitage said.

He was invited to write the book by the National Trust to celebrate blossom artistically, echoing the cherry blossom festivals in Japan, and suggested it had done “incredibly well” because it offers a “sense of hope in a pretty bleak time”.

The National Trust also provided statistics on the decline of orchards to inform his work. “We’re not just talking about beautiful places to wander through in floaty white blouses, we’re talking about habitats for fertilisation, pollination, all the necessary ecosystems that rely on blossom and pollen happening,” he said.

Armitage was also influenced by the changing seasonal weather and repullulation patterns where he lives, with blossom arriving in early February only to be wiped out by windstorms and snow in April. “Anyone who spends time outside or even just looks outside the winter will notice things happen outside those regular patterns,” he said.

For the book, he travelled around the country looking at blossom trees, including National Trust sites. “A lot of the planting they’re doing, which interested me is in urban areas, not just formal parks and gardens, but precincts and estates – trying to bring nature more into people’s lives,” Armitage said.

The book features juxtapositions of blossoms with concrete buildings, in its text and illustrations. One poem named “plum tree among the skyscrapers” describes a “potting compost of burger boxes”, which is “staging a one tree show with high vis blossoms and lip gloss petals” and “outshining the smoke sculptures and blubbering fountains”.

Describing another poem as “trippy”, he observed that blossoms are very “psychedelic and hallucinogenic”.

He said he tried to write poems “without falling into romanticism and sentimentality”. “Poets have been drawing on nature ever since poetry first spoke its first utterance so there’s a pressure to find new language, new metaphor without straying too far from the topic,” Armitage said. “That was the challenge, to write in a contemporary way, in a contemporary world.”

Source: theguardian.com