Q & A with Paul Evans, Editor of Poetry RebellionIncluding featured poems

Paul Evans

Paul Evans is a wanderer of woods, nature writer and senior lecturer in creative writing in the Manchester Writing School, Manchester Metropolitan University. He is best known as a contributor of Country Diaries for The Guardian; as a writer and presenter of natural history documentaries, place-based features, radio poems and docu-dramas on BBC Radio 4. His books are: Herbaceous, (Little Toller, 2014), Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys Through Britain’s Secret Wilderness, (Rider Books, 2015) , How to See Nature (Batsford, 2018); and he edited Poetry Rebellion (Batsford, 2021). His background is in the nature conservation movement, horticulture in the UK and USA, and performance poetry in Britain and New York. He has a PhD in philosophy and lives in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.

Poetry Rebellion is described as poems and prose to “rewild the spirit.” Can you tell us a little more about the anthology, what brought it about and who is in it? What was your criteria for selecting contributors? 

Batsford Books, part of Pavilion Books that published my How To See Nature, asked if I’d like to edit a poetry anthology. I jumped at the opportunity to contribute something to the idea of cultural rewilding, to talk about how literature reaches the soul (like birdsong), and how this may inspire a rebellion against forces the ranged against Nature. I began with poems that influenced me and the rest was serendipity. I wanted a diversity of voices, times and places so it includes Allen Ginsberg, John Clare, Mary Webb, Jean Binta Breeze, Andrew McMillan, Dogen Zenji, Mia Cunningham, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Jean–Joseph Rabearivelo, Emily Dickinson, Helen Mort…..

The collection has been described as a “sanctuary in which to find solace from environmental grief and a manual for psychic resistance in the war against Nature.” How do you think poetry can help us process our grief and rage at the war against Nature?

I think I want to voice grief and rage at the war against Nature rather than ‘process’ it as a kind of amelioration. There is literature that provides a refuge, an embracing sense of wonder, and a restorative sanctuary from the brutal realities of human life: Nature as rehab. But I’m also interested in a literature inspired by Nature which leads to action in support of Nature: a poetry that helps us face our fear of Nature’s answering violence.

Our perception and relationship to Nature has changed profoundly, from the pre-Romantics, to the Romantic apprehension of the sublime in Nature as a reaction against Industrialisation, to Modernist negotiations with the relationship between Nature and technology and so on. If it isn’t too broad and general a question, how has our representation of Nature changed in recent years? Did you notice any trends or changes as you compiled this collection?

I watched a spotted flycatcher on a fence, snipping gnats from the air, flitting between posts – post-human, post-pastoral, post-secular, post-postmodern, post-nature…

How might poetry give us the courage to rebel against the forces arrayed against the Earth? 

Pablo Neruda says “all poetry is rebellion” – poetry is in the songs we sing to ourselves to face the fear of ourselves, the songs we sing with each other to face the fear of each other, the songs we sing to Nature to face our fear of Nature. Poetry can dare more than it can hope. As we’ve seen recently, the forces arrayed against the Earth are also those oppressing us. We can turn that strength against them.

Do you have a vision for a regenerative future? How might poetry help us get back in touch with Nature?

‘Poetry is a quality of language, just as wild is a quality of Nature. There is also an emotional ecosystem into which the rebel poem, a conjured animal, is reintroduced to sniff out the spirits and inspire a wild resistance…’ I don’t know about the future but what we do now will shape it in ways we cannot foresee.

 

 

Extracts from Poetry Rebellion: Poems and Prose to Rewild the Spirit, edited by Paul Evans.

 

Her

Mia Cunningham

 

Citrus and social status,
wafted around rooms where politics had never been spoken before.

Sage cleaned the air in classrooms where systems had never
changed laws.

The children of this Earth growling and
growing ready for change,
their mother’s prepared them since the days when the sea was our
home and soil our stage.

She made us watch the world burn.
This was our punishment.
And our collective mother suffocated,

as scabs appeared on tree branches,
as wounds opened on mountain ranges,

as wildlife was encased in fire fortresses
this was a riot, a battle, a protest.

She sent messages in bottles,
and texts, a love letter addressed to you.

We chose to ignore her all-encompassing rage.
so we named her once and for all,
Climate Change.

 

Mountain

Helen Mort

 

You are very successful
but you have rocks in your chest,

skin-coloured sandstone
wedged where your breasts should be.

Your stomach is a boulder.
To hold you up, your legs grow stony too.

You zip your jacket up
and nobody notices you are a mountain.

You buy coffee,
run board meetings where no-one says

you are dry rock
but above your head, their talk is weather,

your eyes collect new rain
and you know what you are because

like any hillside
you don’t sleep. Your feet could hold you here

forever but your sides
are crumbling, and when you speak

your words are rockfall, you’re
scared your heart is tumbling from your mouth.

 

Against Metaphor 

Nikolai Duffy

 

1 Waterboard

Let me tell you how the rains come
and how the world goes down
over time and in water, how

when the ground sinks
webbed feet are an advantage
and gills even more so;

how, under water, the body’s
first instinct is to hold its breath
before oxygen levels run so low
the body senses the imminence

of death and, despite itself, breathes
in water; how water enters the mouth,

windpipe, and floods the lungs, how
this keeps happening, how they
torture people this way, and call it

waterboarding; how one thing, always,
is connected to another, how torture
links to refugees drowning at sea.

 

2 Refuge

How subtle the wind. When
the first waves came most
people had no choice but

to be already standing, cheek
to jowl. Over four nights, three
rowing boats sunk, 118 people,

the bloat of bodies into blue
and bruise and rotting, money
sealed in plastic and sewn

into linings, whole families killed
by wave, debris, and then later,
bureaucracy, bullet and blunt

instrument, the aftermath
more perilous and prolonged.

 

Andrew McMillan

 

Paul Evans is a wanderer of woods, nature writer and senior lecturer in creative writing in the Manchester Writing School, Manchester Metropolitan University. He is best known as a contributor of Country Diaries for The Guardian; as a writer and presenter of natural history documentaries, place-based features, radio poems and docu-dramas on BBC Radio 4. His books are: Herbaceous, (Little Toller, 2014), Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys Through Britain’s Secret Wilderness, (Rider Books, 2015) , How to See Nature (Batsford, 2018); and he edited Poetry Rebellion (Batsford, 2021). His background is in the nature conservation movement, horticulture in the UK and USA, and performance poetry in Britain and New York. He has a PhD in philosophy and lives in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.