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Featured Anthology: Earth Shattering – Helen Dunmore

Written by jen, 18th January 2008

The final sections of the Earth Shattering, 'Forces of Nature' and 'Natural Disasters', combine poems that show the effects of global warming, climate change and question the accuracy of the expression 'natural disaster'. The anthology ends, after covering man-made environmental disasters and so-called 'acts of God', with "planetary catastrophe and Eco-Armageddon." However, this is not meant as a pessimistic conclusion but a reminder to us all, that as the world's politicians and multi-national corporations arrange our reckless rush towards Eco-Armageddon, poetry is not a hopeless gesture but that in its detail, the force of each poem effects each reader's determination for change and adds a voice to the collective call.

The last poem to feature from this anthology is Helen Dunmore's Ice coming. A poet, novelist, short-story and children's writer, Helen Dunmore won the Orange Prize for fiction in 1996. She has written abundantly and successfully: in The Raw Garden she questions our notions of what's really 'natural', the impact of human intervention on the landscape and genetic engineering; exploring our relationships with animals and our own animal nature in Bestiary in her latest collection, Glad of These Times, her poems "capture the fleetingness of life, its sweetness and intensity, the short time we have on earth and the pleasures of the earth, with death as the frame which sharpens everything and gives it shape."

Ice coming
(after Doris Lessing)

First, the retreat of the bees
lifting, heavy with the final
pollen of gorse and garden,
lugging the weight of it, like coal sacks
heaped on lorry-backs
in the ice-cream clamour of August.

The retreat of bees, lifting
all at once from city gardens -
suddenly the roses are scentless
as cold probes like a tongue,
crawling through the warm crevices
of Kew and Stepney. The ice comes
slowly, slowly, not to frighten anyone.

Not to frighten anyone. But the Snowdon
valleys are muffled with avalanche,
the Thames freezes, the Promenade des Anglais
clinks with a thousand icicles, where palms
died in a night, and the sea
of Greece stares back like stone
at the ice-Gorgon, white as a sheet.

Ice squeaks and whines. Snow slams
like a door miles off, exploding a forest
to shards and matchsticks. The glacier
is strangest, grey as an elephant,
too big to be heard. Big-foot, Gorgon -
a little mythology
rustles before it is stilled.

So it goes. Ivy, mahonia, viburnum
lift their fossilised flowers
under six feet of ice, for the bees
that are gone. As for being human
it worked once, but for now
and the forseeable future
the conditions are wrong.

Helen Dunmore, 2007

(This poem is reproduced with permission from Earth Shattering (2007, Bloodaxe Books), edited by Neil Astley.)

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