this is an emergency!

Review: Helen Moore, Ecozoa (Hampshire: Permanent Publications, 2015)

O, obscene era

this is an emergency!

(‘Deep Time, Deep Tissue’)

ecozoa

There’s no mistaking the message articulated by Helen Moore in her new collection of eco-poetry.

Already in 2012’s Hedge Fund she was warning of the existential threat to our natural world at the same time as marvelling at its delights.

But three years later, with Ecozoa, there is the impression of a still sharper edge to her vision, perhaps in response to yet more sharply-cut wounds inflicted by the murderous mutilating monster known as industrial civilization.

A landscape devastated by fracking
A landscape devastated by fracking

What has changed over that period? For a start, Moore’s English homelands have been threatened by fracking, a process which is so blatantly unacceptable that it reveals itself and the mindset behind it as an assault not just on our soil, air and water but on all good sense, on any vision of a future place worth living in.

earth is not our wider, life-sustaining body

but a cache of raw matter to be stripped, mined, fracked

(‘apples are not the only gadgets’)

There are poems here reflecting her own participation in (‘This is not a dirty protest!’) and support for the anti-fracking struggle. “And may the frackers’ drills go soft, their stocks & shares evaporate!” she prays in ‘I call on the spirit of Owen’.

Moore is scathing about those who bear responsibility for the destruction of our planetary life-support system, “the kind of chaff that congregates out of sight of the general public – like arms dealers, corporate lobbyists & government ministers”. (‘The Pocket’s Circumference).

iraq-war-shock-and-awe

In ‘Kali Exorcism’, a Ginsberg-inspired piece, she unleashes her moral scorn for those leaders of our society who dare to proclaim their moral high ground from the darkest depths of a stinking corpse-filled pit of hypocrisy.

then show us the hands of our prime minister and his henchmen

in the pockets of BAE Systems, touting for business

with morbid regimes and crackpot dictators,

and their arms fairs, where they never ask what’s fair

in selling arms, just rake in the bloodied money,

as our own banks account to cluster-bomb makers.

Come, dark goddess, tear off veils of rhetoric that conceal

war-mongering deeds in cloaks of respectability: help us

hear deeper than the pre-emptive strikes, the collateral damage

ventriloquised by our complicit media,

and demand plain language to describe victims of torture,

rape and murder in the wars they report.

mountains in wales

At the same time, she sings sublime songs of praise to all that she loves, such as in the beautifully simple poem ‘glory be to Gaia’:

glory be to Gaia,

for birdsong, mountains and clear lakes;

we honour & praise you, Gaia,

giant pulsating orb of life

from which we’ve grown –

please help us feel our interdependence

with all animal and human kin

I may be doing Moore a disservice by drawing attention to the poems that most directly express a ‘political’ message – there are plenty in the collection that concern other aspects of her life.

But for me, that is where the power in her work resides – not just in her expression of a message, but in her awareness of how important it is that this message be expressed, and in her acceptance of the responsibility that she bears to help express it.

This is perhaps something that has started to grow much more strongly within her, like an idea-child, in recent years, as she hints in ‘Sweet Pain’:

So I’ve chosen to embrace

different responsibilities – to journey through

my wounds to serve The Great Turning.

Now let revolutionary love suckle

at my breast – the desire’s been growing

As she explains in her ‘Notes’ at the end of the collection, the term “The Great Turning”, popularised by Joanna Macy and David Korten, describes “the movement from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining one”.

The book’s title comes from Thomas Berry’s proposal of an “Ecozoic Era”, denoting a new age where we live in harmony and “with the Earth as our community”.

William_Blake
William Blake

But an even more important presence in this book is that of William Blake (1757-1827). He also partly inspired its title, with his work The Four Zoas, and figures from his own personal poetic mythology – Tharmas, Urizen, Urthona and Luvah – here feature as headings for the sections of the collection.

Blake in many ways provides a bridge from the ancient world to the new. Historian Christopher Hill has written that he detects an inspiration for Blake’s Romantic vision in “an underground heretical tradition which influenced his thought in a communitarian and chiliastic direction”, which had been passed down by the “mystical anarchists” of the millenarian sects of the Middle Ages, especially the Brethren of the Free Spirit, via the English Revolution (for more on this see The Stifled Soul of Humankind).

Inspiring - Blake's mystic vision
Inspiring – Blake’s mystic vision

Blake’s spirit – “a kind of pantheistic idealism” to use a label deployed by anarchist writer Peter Marshall – resurfaced to dramatic effect at the end of the 19th century but has been somewhat crushed by the machineries and microchips of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

By placing herself in a direct line of ideological descent from Blake, Moore is doing more than expressing admiration for him. She is proclaiming herself as a contemporary manifestation of that same “underground heretical tradition”.

Of course, like all watery things, this stream of thought is not easy to pin down or define and in Moore it takes on a new shape, appropriate to our age and influenced by contemporary environmentalism and feminism – as well as by the very experience of living in these disastrously dislocated and disintegrating times.

However, it is clear to me that Moore is very consciously invoking, summoning up, the spirit that animated Blake, his predecessors and his successors – bringing it into existence in our midst, in England, in 2015, so that it can inspire once more.

She cites Thomas Berry as saying that that the Ecozoic Era is something that “we must will into being”, and in doing so she reveals that her chosen task is to help to do just that.

For we are too deeply buried now in layers of deepest delusion, deception and despotism for our salvation to come through straightforward means. It is becoming increasingly impossible for people to even imagine a world that is not choked by the capitalist cancer, let alone begin to create one.

Something more than narrow rationality is needed to snap us out of our sleepwalk towards the cliff edge. Something powerful and magical – something poetical! – needs to surge out of our dreams, out of our collective soul, something that can break the hypnotic spell and bring humankind to its waking senses.

Yes, “this is an emergency” – and an emergency to which Helen Moore for one is clearly prepared to respond.

Helen Moore

(Information on readings and other launch events can be found here)

Eco-poets resisting the dominant materialist culture

A perceptive and positive piece on eco-poetry has been produced by Helen Moore, whose work I referred to recently.

In the article in the International Times, she writes: “Ecopoetry arises out of the extended self, a sense of belonging to the widest community that we can imagine and experience, that of our 4.5 billion year-old home, planet Earth, and beyond, into the mysteries of our Universe.

“The connected or ecological self is, as Australian rainforest activist John Seed writes, able to ‘think like a mountain’.

“His/her consciousness arises from a place of deep communion, a Zen Buddhist awareness of the one breath that all beings share.

“Thus the ecopoet understands more than the linguistic link between Mother Nature and human nature – a connection largely forgotten in Western culture, although thankfully since the 1960s, an extraordinary counter-cultural awakening to our radical interdependence with the natural world has been occurring in many minds around the world.

“However, ecopoets in the modern Western tradition (in contrast to many non-Western ethnopoetic traditions) have generally been shaped by the dominant secular, materialist culture – one which treats the Earth as an inanimate resource to be endlessly exploited.”

Helen Moore’s eco-poetry

I had the pleasure last week of attending the launch up in London of the debut book by young eco-poet Helen Moore.

It’s called Hedge Fund & other living margins and, as you can probably tell from the title, it combines a critique of our current industrial/money system with a celebration of the real life that it is smothering and choking to death.

The impressive title poem does this in a very direct, and effective, way by alternating sparking descriptions of glorious nature with a flatter italicised voice describing the parallel death-world of finance.

The theme is also taken up in ‘capitalism, a Sonnet’, another of the poems that Helen performed on the night:

chemical Macaque      glaxosmithkline
roche       trepanned-brain Baboon

max factor eyes burning Cat      l’oreal
Rabbit      (the devil wears perfume)

o,dear        easyjet      ryanair
melting Reindeer, Polar Bear

but a bargain for mcdonalds‑
Earth’s rainforests        slashed

As Asians sweat for adidas
nike       the evil empire’s goddess

o, bless all ecocidal patriarchs‑so smart
in suits         armani uniforms

a cocktail of intellect and greed
hellish stuff        they puppet us to need

Helen clearly has no illusions as to the scale of the threat to our living planet posed by ‘The Cancer’ that is our civilization (as expressed in a piece of that name), and there is a certain inevitable sense of sadness running through her poetry – notably in ‘The Fallen’, which pays tribute to nine native species of British wildflower that have died out in recent years.

But she refuses to give way to despair and surging up through her carefully chosen words is a powerful message of hope drawn from the energy of life itself.

This is beautifully presented in ‘Pantoum on Planting Seeds’:

How I misjudge these smallest things‑
dull and dry as peppercorns,
when in my palm I hold
a potency waiting to be sown.

Dull and dry as peppercorns
and yet in dormancy they breathe,
potency waiting to unfold,
sensing fertile sun and soil.

And yet in dormancy they breathe
and slowly awaken‑
sensing fertile sun and soil‑
to rise with levity and purpose.

Slowly I awaken
to these living beings I hold;
seeking levity and purpose
they whisper, electric with potential.

Hedge Fund & other living margins by Helen Moore is published by Shearsman Books at £8.95. For details go to http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2012/moore.html