Review: Soul of the Earth

 

Soul of the Earth: The Awen Anthology of Eco-Spiritual Poetry, Ed. Jay Ramsay

This beautiful collection of poetry centres on our earth as a living entity and on whose survival our own lives depend. Ramsay states in his introduction: ‘We are being asked, individually and collectively, to make an absolute basic spiritual choice for life.’  The spiritual choices in this collection are positive, life-affirming declarations of love for this planet from a variety of perspectives.

Each of the twenty-one contributors to this book of poetry has something vital to contribute to the concept of eco-spirituality; and the myriad of explorations on this theme will resonate with readers quietly contemplating this important question explored in the collection. It is difficult to single out individual poets / poems as the entire volume is soul food.  Apologies to those poets not mentioned in this review – rest assured your poems too were appreciated.

So – what are these spiritual choices?  Karen Eberhardt –Shelton’s Misplaced Calibrators explores the disconnection between modern life and the things that really matter. The natural world in her observational poem is removed from the personas within it by the personas’ obliviousness to patterns and meanings of life:

Mum walks the springer spaniels while talking

On her mobile phone;

Ladybirds crawl away, bees watch in amazement.

The ladybirds flee; the bees are stunned. The loss of all the old wisdom of bee-keeping, part of the ancient knowledge that allowed us to survive as a species is wonderfully captured in this personification and their astonishment as they observe this human so indifferent to their presence.  No telling the bees here.

The whole poem reverberates with old knowledge and the personifications used are more than a literary device. The question asked at the end: ‘What would they do if there was no moon or sun or seasons ever again?’ is the heart of this poem and the gentle meditative wisdom at its centre.

Jehanne Mehta’s Hymn to the Earth is a stunning panegyric reminiscent of classical works in praise of Gods and Goddesses. The earth is portrayed as a beautiful young woman who has many moods:

She is lovely in the springtime in her dress of gold and purple;

She is lovely in the summer in her robe of living green…

The poem invites its reader to walk the seasons and to appreciate our world as a living, breathing entity. It encourages the reader to think about the earth and what it means. But it does more than this. It involves the reader at a visceral level and makes them contemplate a relationship with the earth as they might contemplate a relationship with a lover. The power in this poem is palpable and it is perfect for immersion in spiritual practice, regardless of path.

Lynne Wycherley’s Substitute Sky picks up the same theme as Karen Eberhardt –Shelton’s poem: the disconnect between the appearance of living and of life itself:

…we stare at screens,

A sly fluorescence, a not-quite sky…

(…)

Less talk,

Less laughter, less sun on our skins;

Our lives on hold, our children wired in.

The imagery of children entrapped by wires is a powerful punch to the gut and reminds the reader that a literal tying down of children to control them would – rightly – be viewed as child abuse, but our acceptance of a metaphorical tying of children by the unseen wires and cables of technology is an abuse we seem to accept without question. Such sad children are all too often the norm and it can sometimes seem they neither know nor care that they are in the thrall of machines.

The eco-spiritual question asked of the reader throughout the book is how we interact with our modern world and the technology within it – and how we teach our children that a machine is a good servant but a bad master. This is an important, pertinent and relevant question and the result of not addressing it is encapsulated in the final couplet of Wycherley’s poem:

Core addiction: captive eyes.

Outside the real world breathes, and dies.

These three poems are but a small taste of the treasures contained within this volume. Each of the poets brings their own interpretation to the question of eco-spirituality and each offers something of themselves and of importance to the reader.

Fiona Tinker

Soul of the Earth: The Awen Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Ed. Jay Ramsay, (England: Stroud, Awen Publishers, 2010.)  £12.

More about the book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/soul_of_the_earth.html

 

 

 

 

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A reading from Iona

Mary Palmer performing poetry from her book ‘Iona’. Poetry at Saint Stephens ‘Tree House’ art group in the Saint Stephens Café in Bristol City Centre, UK.

More about Iona here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/iona.html

David Orr’s WHAT IS EDUCATION FOR?

by Karen Eberhardt-Shelton

I read, read, read informative books as my choice for the best way to be informed. What has grabbed me most recently are the books and various writings by the world’s great educator, DAVID ORR, currently on the faculty of Oberlin College in Ohio, and a perpetual partner in the Earth’s Institute of Learning. He’s the most articulate, knowledgeable, and convincing advocate of changing the way people think by radically altering the deformities of the Education System I’ve ever come across, and therefore feel the world owes him a great debt of gratitude for his persistence in offering rescue remedies capable of curing our overall persecution of life on Earth.

First I read ECOLOGICAL LITERACY, an education in its own right, including contributions by Orr. Now I’ve nearly finished EARTH in MINDOn Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, and view it as the bible containing what we most need to know if we’re to survive. Then I looked for material on line, and came up with this splendid piece offered by the Context Institute: What Is Education For?   The whole piece can be read online, only about 5 pages long, and offers some of the main points contained in Orr’s endeavours to align us with rational choices and reality.

Here are a few of his main points. “Education is no guarantee of decency, prudence or wisdom.   More of the same kinds of education will only compound our problems. . .It is not education that will save us, but education of a certain kind. . .It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. . .The plain fact is that the planet doesn’t need more ‘successful’ people, it desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. . .There is a myth that our culture represents the pinnacle of human achievement, but in fact, we live in a disintegrating culture, and need to participate in the creation of real solutions to real problems. We should set a goal of ecological literacy for all students that includes the basic comprehension of : the laws of thermodynamics, the basic principles of ecology, carrying capacity, energetics, least-cost/end-use analysis, how to live well in a place, limits of technology, appropriate scale, sustainable agriculture and forestry, steady-state economics, and environmental ethics. If Education does not teach us these things, then what is education for?”

Read the whole piece! Read Orr’s books. Focus on education and invent ways to redesign its function and intent. How else are we going to change the way people think? If students go into workshops where they debate and discuss the main points of whatever is problematic, destabilising, destructive, and out of alignment with the way the Earth functions, etc., Orr’s call for real education will develop a steady heartbeat.

 

Ballads Across Borders

Bardic adventures in song and landscape from Kevan Manwaring….

The Bardic Academic

Off by yourself you could sing those songs to bring yourself back.

Gary Snyder, ‘Good, Wild, Sacred’

WP_20160707_15_02_37_Pro Offa’s Dyke Path, descending southwards from the Jubilee Tower, 1821 ft (555 m) .                   K. Manwaring 2016

I felt very much like a pilgrim – a bit crazy and off the beaten track of reality. I was delighted to discover in Thoreau’s iconic essay on walking (slipped in with my other essentials) that the word ‘Sauntering’ is derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense [sic] of going a al Sainte Terre’, to the Holy Land. Apparently children used to call out, ‘There goes a Sainte-Terrer!’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. Thoreau notes that some derive the word from ‘sans terre’, without land or home, ‘which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular…

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Mary Palmer

Geoff Hall remembers poet Mary Palmer

“It’s 7 years since our friend Mary Palmer left us. She died from cancer a day after my birthday in 2009. We were both born in that most glorious of years, 1957. I was 10 days older than Mary and indeed still am!

I met Mary through some mutual friends and somehow we hit it off. Maybe being born into a year of National turmoil – there was a National Strike in ’57 – meant we shared something in common. It’s interesting that we are both poetic souls.

You can read the rest of the post here – http://artsmentoring.co/art-and-spirituality/mary-palmer/

Mary Palmer’s biography and bibliography are here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/mary_palmer.html

A Common Cause

Anthony author croppedby Anthony Nanson

In the scary aftermath of the vote to leave the EU, some of the wiser souls I know have voiced the importance of standing together, of being there for each other. The neoliberal paradigm that dominates our times presses people always to prioritise their own interests; it sanctifies selfishness. The xenophobia that came into the open during the referendum campaign is one manifestation of this. But where the neoliberal is the norm, individual artists, writers, therapists, teachers, say, who at heart are kind and generous can be seduced by the drive to push, push, push their own micro-businesses, to act competitively against their peers, to see acquaintances in their field as rivals. It’s an insidious thing: the assumption that the cake must be limited in size, that only so many can get a share, to feel jealous towards those who secure a bigger share than you. Yet the resources competed for in these microcosms pale into insignificance compared with the fortunes at stake in the transactions of big companies and shareholders, whose grand-scale quest for profit is driving the unsustainable consumption of the earth’s resources.

Another ramification of neoliberalism is that the whole point of publishing is to make money; the corollary being that an author must write in such a way as to maximise potential sales. Let’s remember that there are many other reasons for publishing books. Today I happened to read about Jewish literati who fled the cataclysm of Nazi Europe to North America and there ran literary journals and presses, publishing in Yiddish, whose express purpose was to sustain the cultural life of an immigrant community driven far from their homelands. I’d like to think these publishers and editors made enough money to cover their costs, their time, maybe even turned a profit; but the pursuit of profit was not the main motivation of these enterprises.

So it is for most small presses. And so it is for Awen Publications. We aim to publish writing that is of high literary quality and has at the same time a commitment to the world. We’ve christened our creative vision ‘ecobardic’, by which we mean an evolving approach to the arts which is responsive to the strained relationship between human beings and the global ecosystem and takes inspiration from certain qualities of the bardic tradition (see our manifesto for more about that). The functioning of the press depends on people giving their time, in one way or another, and it seems to make sense to extend this cooperative approach by starting a collective blog: a blog that will not be dominated by, or dependent on, one voice, but will bring contributions from the diverse talents and thoughts of the different authors we’ve published. By our taking common cause in this way, I hope the blog will help to advance a sense of a movement in the kind of literature that we care for and that in some way serves the world’s vital needs; a movement including not merely ourselves, but everyone – writers, readers, publishers – who’s broadly sympathetic to this cause.

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