The right poem, in the right moment, on the right social media, can travel round the world faster than a government can write a marketing strategy, faster than new environmental policy.
Four British poets have been appointed by climate activist arts organisation Cape Farewell to engage with the twin crises of our time: Covid-19 and climate change.
Supported by Arts Council Emergency Funding, the Siren Poets launch the project with a joint piece of writing that is being posted through the Cape Farewell social channels.
Over the following months, the poets will create new work and engage with, encourage and support others to visualise, write and share visions of how our future is being shaped by the parallel threats of disease and environmental destruction.
Cape Farewell is an international, not-for-profit arts organisation based in the South West of England. It has always worked with poets and writers, including Ian McEwan, Vikram Seth, Lemn Sissay, Gretel Ehrlich, Kay Syrad, Nick Drake and Helen Mort.
For this project, the commissioned poets have been selected through an open call to South West-based creatives only. They are: former Bard of Exeter and Radio 4 Slam winner Liv Torc; comic and spoken word UK National Poetry Slam champion Pete Bearder; award-winning writer, filmmaker, workshop facilitator and Tedx Speaker Shagufta Iqbal; and multiple slam winner and former Bard of Exeter, ‘emerging Siren’, Chris White.
Liv Torc said: "The right poem, in the right moment, on the right social media, can travel round the world faster than a government can write a marketing strategy, faster than new environmental policy; maybe not faster than fear, but it can chase fear down and limit the damage."
With this in mind, the poets will use a range of tools to get their words out to the public. Chris White is recording and gathering people's "favourite plastic things" to create a Plastic Love Stories feature and will be teaming up with musician Hal Kelly to set some of his poems about plastic pollution to music, as well as writing a poem a week for BBC Radio Devon.
Shagufta will be expanding her work on food politics, as part of her ongoing focus on Climate Justice, while Liv Torc sees Siren Poets as an opportunity to look at the big questions about what it means to be human in these times, holding space to help people creatively process the fear, anxiety and grief that has been part and parcel of the virus experience.
Pete Bearder will create footage of his homage to Gaia, to be performed as a duet with the lead singer of The Bare Souls, while his Sponsor an Activist spoof will satirise both hardcore and armchair climate activists.
The Cape Farewell website will become a portal to the new material, with interactive workshops taking place online and performances bring recorded and broadcast through the summer.
Cape Farewell founder David Buckland said: “Cape Farewell’s history shows that issue-based art can inspire a diverse audience, unifying communities through a common cause.
"The devastating Covid-19 virus does have an up side: CO2 levels are dropping for the first time in four decades as the world adjusts to new realities. Let’s sound the Siren now for an environmental cultural shift.”
Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Cape Farewell.