Friday 27 November 2020

Review of Sheaf Poetry Festival (4) by Jon Wilkins

What a wonderful way to spend a weekend, indulging in the impressive poets featured in the Sheaf Poetry Festival held on YouTube and accessible to all via Zoom, Twitter @SheafPoetryFest, and on The performances from all poets will be available on YouTube. Search Sheaf Poetry.

Having earlier attended their Ecopoetry and Found Poetry workshop, I ended my Sheaf Poetry Festival experience by listening to a performance of poetry about climate change with Carrie Etter and Caleb Parkin. I was not disappointed. Using many of the techniques described in their workshops they proceeded to eviscerate climate change deniers with their powerful words and performances. Words can deliver change. The right words that is. Poetry can make a difference in raising awareness of matters of vital importance and we see this here.

Caleb Parkin read from work looking at gendered aspects of ecology. He talked about writing as if in drag. Taking on another persona to get your message across. And what a message.

Caleb thinks that who we have in charge is important in climate change. He read from poems welcoming change. 

Caleb felt that using schlocky pop culture in your writing means you can have fun writing your own works with ecological themes.

Inspired by Dylan Thomas he was able to combine the memory of Thomas and his work for a petrochemical giant. ‘By the Writing shed at Laugharne’:

          unliving water
          Neither fresh nor salty nor brackish
          Water which once had fierce appetites
          Now shredding like cellophane
          Popped like a dot of bubble wrap …

... giving us the sense of pollution of the ocean as we allow it to be damaged beyond repair. Simple writing, full of the horror of pollution and climate damage.

Carrie Etter read from her collection The Weather in Normal about her hometown in Illinois. She divided the book into three arcs about the loss of where she comes from. This started with the death of her parents, then the sale of the family house, and then the effect of climate change in Illinois. Throughout the collection, she shows a widening arc of loss. Not just her family, but the environment she loved and the loss of the ecology she had known. She is angry. She is disappointed. She is not sure if we can overcome the problems, but in her writing, she highlights them and brings the issue to new audiences. 

She performed a ten-minute prose poem from the collection and the images are etched in my mind. She is well worth a read and her readings tonight ended on a hopeful note as she described happy memories of her hometown. Beautifully written:

          … A song in the body
          The body in Illinois.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-five. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years.  He has always loved books and reading. You can read a review of Jon's recent novel, Poppy Flowers at the Front, here. His website is here

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