Out of the Poets' Ark: Matt Merritt on creativity and nature

Thursday 3 March 2011

The first of our guest bloggers, poet Matt Merritt, takes StAnza's theme, The Poets' Ark, as the starting point of his discussion of poetry, nature and ecology.

A couple of years ago, a collection of poets, authors, visual artists, photographers and academics – led by writers Mark Cocker and Paul Jepson – huddled into an Oxford lecture theatre, for the first 'Birds, Nature and Creativity Symposium'.

The aim was to explore ways of building links – or maybe that’s rebuilding old links - between scientists, policy-makers, charities, NGOs and volunteers working at the dirty end of conservation, and artists inspired by the natural world, and the many threats it faces.

Not that it was advocating dryly didactic work, or trying to formulate some ‘party line’, but rather trying to understand how the great passion and concern for ecological issues among many artists (open any British poetry mag, and a significant proportion of the work will be in some way inspired by nature) might be harnessed to good effect, for small, grassroots projects as much as any one great cause.

A second, larger Symposium was held at the end of 2010, and the plan is to organise spin-off events round the country, on a regular basis.

I get the feeling that it’s an idea that’s found its time, in the poetry world, at least. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen Shearsman’s fine The Ground Aslant, an anthology of radical landscape poetry which aims to move beyond ‘literary tourism’, and Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ Edgelands, a distinctly poetic look at what they call our ‘true wilderness’.

Now, thanks to one of its chosen themes – The Poets’ Ark – StAnza 2011 is asking many of the same questions that the Symposium considered. Are poets in a unique position to both capture and analyse our complex relationship with nature? Can they communicate the many issues at stake at times when the message isn’t getting through from elsewhere?

If you’re a poet, or an artist of any sort, involved in StAnza 2011, or if any of the events you attend inspire you to consider ecological issues, or those questions, in a fresh light, I hope you’ll consider getting further involved.

There are more details at birdsandculture.blogspot.com, or you can contact me through my blog, and I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, enjoy the poetic menagerie about to be let loose around St Andrews.

Matt Merritt (polyolbion.blogspot.com)

Matt will be reading at the Town Hall Supper Room on Thursday 17th March at 11.30am. Tickets available from the Byre Theatre Box Office 01334 475000