My doctoral inquiry, which I completed nearly a year ago (Aamli, 2020), began with a dawning sense of horror at the seriousness of emerging data warning about impeding global climate breakdown. From this starting point, I was drawn to explore individual and institutional responses to climate crisis. Initially I examined my own responses, before broadening gradually, first to small group inquiry, and eventually, to trying to place these local stories within a wider cultural context, present and historic.
My framing was broadly autoethnographic (Adams, et al, 2013), although I stopped short of formally identifying my thesis as Autoethnography, as I felt that the to-and-fro between personal and societal dynamics were insufficiently developed at that time.
Poetic and arts-based research methods were my primary modes of inquiry (a key text was Faulkner, 2019). I came to understand poetry as an effective mode for communicating with the individual – and collective? – sub-conscious and following completion of the doctorate, I have continued to explore the usefulness of various poetic forms as a mechanism for providing access to suppressed internal voices.
I am particularly interested in the role that constraint can play, in helping to push us towards a dialogue with those typically ignored, suppressed perspectives. A structure acts as a psychic “net”, that catches and contains our conscious controlling narrative.
I suspect that our subconscious preoccupations bubble into expression, influencing the flow of the poetry, while the consciousness that usually controls the messages is distracted by whatever “rule” has been introduced – rhyme or meter, or a set pattern of words to follow, per the sestina or Golden Shovel (Hayes, 2010; Kahn, et al, 2019).
The Golden Shovel form, invented by Terrance Hayes to honour Gwendolyn Brooks, writes “towards” the selected text. In this form, one word from the guide text forms the last word of each line of the new poem.
For this work, I posed myself a question – what are the key things that preoccupy me, now, in relation to the climate crisis? – and then sought to construct a phase poem around part of a quotation from Wendell Berry (2002) that had been important to me when I was in the early phases of setting the direction of my doctoral studies.
I inverted the Golden Shovel structure, using Berry’s text as the first word in each line and writing “away” from Berry’s source material to create something new. There is no intention to suggest that the resulting poem is Berry’s point of view; the voice, the questions, the pre-occupations, are my own. However, I do take seriously the idea that my poetic material is, at some level, in dialogue with Berry, as well as using Berry’s text as a synecdochal representation of my wider doctoral readings and research.
It may be that in this last moment, we swerve. This
is the Hero fantasy the West is so fond of, but will
not be a world worth saving, if we save the rich
only, leaving the needy to burn, starve, drown,
our consciences seared by too much suffering,
own children choking on poison-altered air.
Creativity co-opted, to peddle distractions
our planet and pockets are better without.
Own your way to happiness! Reduced
capacity to question, alter course
for a simpler and lighter-touch
life shaped by the awareness
that we are part of all that
is and no longer being
Our best hope,
arrogant or otherwise – the
assumption that change is possible.
After Wendell Berry – VII
The best I can say, in closing, is –
Creation continues (to astonish)
itself, the chill of a cold morning
is exquisite, vanishingly delicate
stifled so quickly, yet returning.
Aamli, P. (2020). Working through climate grief: A poetic inquiry [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. Hult Ashridge Executive Education.
Adams, T., Holman Jones, S., & Ellis, C. (2013). Storying our future. In S. Holman Jones, T. Adams, & C. Ellis, Eds., The handbook of autoethnography (pp. 669-678). Abingdon, Ox: Routledge.
Berry, W. (2002). The art of the commonplace: The agrarian essays of Wendell Berry. (N. Wirzba, Ed.). Counterpoint Press.
Faulkner, S. (2019). Poetic inquiry: Craft, method and practice (2nd ed.) Abingdon, Ox. Routledge.
Hayes, T. (2010). The golden shovel [Poem]. In Lighthead. Penguin Books.
Kahn, P., Shankar, R., & Smith, P. (2019). The “golden shovel” anthology: New poems honouring Gwendolyn Brooks (2nd ed.). University of Arkansas Press.
Appendix – Wendell Berry, Extended Quotation
We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behaviour toward the world – to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity – our own capacity for life – that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.
We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. (Berry, 2002, p. 20).