Tag Archives: John Bolland

Making it clear, making it present: STEM Poetry and Climate Change

Poetry and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) engage in the work of three established poets whose work explores themes of geophysics, engineering, ecology and climate. John Bolland, Mandy Haggith and Eveline Pye – members of the STEM Poets group and the Scottish Writers Centre – bring a variety of styles and voices to make climate realities clear and present.

It’s ALIVE… poetry festival

Coming up next week! The Wee Gatherin, an ‘in real life’ poetry mini-festival organised by The Poet’s Republic in venues around Stonehaven in the North East of Scotland.

Poets are coming in from Scotland, Ireland and England for an opportunity to read, share, laugh…and probably drink.

First event in the bill will be a world premiere reading of poems from the new collection, Pibroch, which will be published by Red Squirrel Press in September…but I can’t wait to share work I’ve been focussed on for the last 2 years.

Pibroch explores parallels between the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 and the unfolding climate catastrophe driving the extreme weather events occuring with increasing frequence and fatal consequences. The title alludes to the pibroch Lament for the Children (Padraig Mor McCrimmon c1640).

The poems in Pibroch have been created as a mix of found poems and imaginative voicings based on :

  • The extant official enquiry and documentation associated with the disaster (e.g. the Cullen Report, Cabinet Papers, newspaper articles);
  • Interviews in the public domain from survivors and relatives;
  • Emotional, behavioural and scientific parallels between the disaster and the current climate crisis as documented in various intergovernmental reports and scientific papers.

As a former oil worker, a scientist and a climate activist, I feel the tensions between my responsibility for the situation, my empathy for the working men and women involved in the fossil fuels industry over the past century and my fears for the future of my children, grandchildren and the sustainability of most of the life on the planet.  It is widely recognised that swift action is needed to mitigate and adapt-to the evolving ecological crisis.  Pibroch is my attempt to engage with the lived experience of the last three generations in both the global North and South in promoting the need for a genuinely Just Transition.

For me, the parallels between the unfolding climate crisis and the events around the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster are striking. It’s a common place to say radical change demands a ‘burning platform’.  In Piper Alpha there is a well-documented concrete metaphor for the emerging catastrophe which requires critical reflection and vivid, accessible expression. On the night of 6th July,1988, 167 men died and 47 survived.  Two weeks ago, around 500 people died on the West Coast of North America. This week, over 150 lost their lives & livelihoods in extreme flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Every year, thousands are forced to flee in the face of environmental degradation and the conflicts provoked by hunger, thirst and poverty arising from the climate emergency.

Perhaps the work can best be summarised by the poem Teach Your Child to Swim. One of a number which will be featured in the Wee Gatherin reading.

The Long Grass

Perhaps it is not slang. The expression is not referenced in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. Perhaps it is just idiomatic. To ‘kick into the long grass’ – which I understand to mean to take an issue or a problem out of play, ignoring it.
The problem is displaced in space – in the discursive space, the problem space – banished into the wilderness, the rough. It is not simply a matter of deferral, not like the term so often used around recent financial crises – ‘to kick the can down the road’ – we’ll deal with it, eventually, it’s still in play…but not just yet.
The long grass lies to either side of the road, the playing field – the game. Or all around it.
The long grass is also, of course, a place to hide. A locale of concealment – and sometimes ambush. Its creatures lurk, stalk or observe – calculate.
I have always felt safest in the long grass. Camouflaged. It is not like the jungle or the forest. It is liminal. Like the edge of the firelight, the feral boundary. You can see the long grass from the road. You can see the road from the long grass.
Camouflaged yet glimpsed. Willing to be visible but not too much. Withheld. Reserved. Unbelonging.
It is a place of refuge. It is not the underworld. It is not occult. It is the long grass where those who do not belong, but are not wholly wild, move cautiously, wait motionless, watch, review, reflect. Sometimes prepare to pounce. It is the long grass where discarded themes and challenges – all of those issues in the ‘too-difficult box’ – lie.

Viewed from the long grass
the road runs from left to right
taking us nowhere

So here we are in the long grass.