London festival explores the power of ecopoetry to deliver hope

By Sarah Mills

LONDON (Reuters) – It’s a sign of our ever-hotter times that the quiet contemplation of nature typical of centuries of verse has given way to activism in the emerging genre of ecopoetry that takes centre stage at a London festival this weekend.

The biennial Poetry International at the Southbank Centre was founded by former British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes in 1967 as a response to the polarisation of east and west during the Cold War and is making a comeback after a pause during pandemic lockdowns.

Its organisers said ecopoetry was an obvious focus given rising concern about climate change as record-breaking heatwaves have swept parts of the globe.

Among the more than 50 poets from around the world taking part, 57-year-old U.S. poet CAConrad, who identifies as queer, said they loved the formal freedom of ecopoetry that had “no aesthetic” in that it did not require them to write in a specific form.

“You can write whatever kind of poems you want. It’s just a concern for this fragile ecosystem that we’re seeing falling apart around us,” they said.

    CAConrad will read pieces at the event, taking place from Friday until Sunday, that they said were inspired by extinct animal sounds as well as “creatures who are thriving in this world right now”.

    “I want to see before I die a mink wearing a human scarf, skin from a handsome hairy leg,” one of their poems ends.

Also taking part is 30-year-old New Zealand born poet Nina Mingya Powles who is concerned about water quality.

    In “Last Summer We Were Underwater” she reflects on swimming in Wellington Harbour, whose beauty she says is in danger from rising pollution.

Poetry’s power to move its listeners can be a positive spur, she said.

    “If someone feels in (a) poem, the boundaries collapse between … what we think of as the human and the non-human … that for me is hope,” she said.

(Reporting by Sarah Mills; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Alison Williams)