Monday, 8 August 2011

Poetry and Polar Bears

I started writing poetry a few years ago in response to a challenge. Our writing group was asked to submit entries for a local college competition. While I enjoyed many of the classics, I already had a rather jaundiced view of most modern poetry that I had read. It seemed to have followed a lot of modern art in being inaccessible and meaning little to anyone other than the artist. There are of course many notable exceptions. The best example is the current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy who writes wonderful accessible stuff.
      I found myself turning to writing poetry in the lulls when the novel inspiration dried up, almost as a means of recharging the wordsmith batteries in the immediacy of verse. As usual, I set off without reading the rules and wrote about whatever inspired me or caught my attention. I subsequently found out from poetry teachers that the best poetry should explore human emotion. To corral poetry in that straightjacket with all that’s going on in the world seems to be unnecessarily limiting, but you can imagine an unworldly poetry priesthood being threatened by their lack of knowledge of many of the important issues that inform the universe we live in today.
      I eventually did try to absorb some formal poetry training and in trepidation went on an Arvon course at the Ted Hughes centre at Hebden Bridge. The attendees were a mixed bunch. Some had already published work but most were somewhere on the learning curve. The tutors were excellent and good critics, whose guidance I readily accepted. After the course I deleted the first half of my poetry oeuvre and heavily revised the rest. I had set off  determined to base some of my poems on up to date science and genetics. I am finding that most people don’t seem to like that, so perhaps I’m simply creating another kind of inaccessibility by going down that road.
    There was one particularly interesting man on the course. He seemed to be a bit of a loner and drank red wine at breakfast, but he was very interested in the North of Scotland in general and Shetland in particular. Since one of my grandmothers came from there and I had actually visited the place, we were able to have a meaningful conversation and it became clear that he had been there himself a few times. He was very evasive about his reason for having been there and I privately speculated on everything from bird watching to selling fertiliser. On the last night of the course he finally confessed. He was a professional Spanker and claimed to have a client on the island of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands. The details of his modus operandi and snippets from his client list provided a fascinating insight into a murky corner of human sexuality. Even without super-injunctions my lips are sealed.

The Polar Bear, Ursus Maritimus
It is something of a coincidence that I'm reading a book about polar bears at the same time as the dreadful attack on British Schoolboys on the Norwegian Island of Svalbard, resulting in the tragic death of one of them. Our hearts go out to the berieved parents.
'On Thin Ice' by Richard Ellis, covers most aspects of the life of the polar bear and the threats to its existence posed by the retreat of the sea ice, a major symptom of global warming. In that sense the polar bear has become something of an environmental icon. My abiding memory from the book will be the long list of reports of indiscriminate slaughter of bears by Victorian explorers and fishermen. However the situation is not as simple as it looks.

Ursus  Gambler 

The great white bear, Ursus Maritimus,
Cuddly as Bambi or Thumper, environmental icon
robbed of his seal ice, climate change victim
prodding our consciences; we must do something.

But what is a polar bear? He’s a brown bear in drag
who bleached his dress to stay in the north,
translucent white fur and black skin,
to catch the sun in a new disguise,
to exploit a niche of ice bound seals.
a geological blink ago, the last time it turned cold
a highly risky strategy, an evolutionary trap.

We can’t do much to stop that niche melting away;
we could set up seal diners in swimming pools at the shore,
but what would the ethics committee have to say about that?

Some whites will survive; most will go back to brown,
as the frozen land greens the bears will sort it out.
We’ve already seen hybrids, Ursus Maritimus with
brown fur patches; let’s leave the bears alone
at least for Ursus Maritimus, evolution is reversible,
and then again if the cold and the seals return.

See the Stuart Agenda, read excerpts and buy from or free read first few chapters at or and buy for for Kindle readers

No comments:

Post a Comment