Literature is a powerful communicator. Especially poetry.
Poetry can distil a wealth of information, thoughts, insights and emotions. The writer Gustave Flaubert said ‘poetry is as precise a thing as geometry.’
Poetry can have both the immediacy of a short snappy phone text or the few lines you’d write on a holiday postcard – and people will remember it!
Poetry can also have the brevity of a successful advertising strapline and hit home its message with impact.
This is why poetry is the perfect communicator to enable audiences to understand the issues that face our planet. It can also inspire people to take their environmental concerns to the eco-poetry performance platform. And I don’t mean the eco-doom laden type of green poetry! My style is more light-hearted and tongue in cheek. I aim to highlight planet Earth’s pressing concerns with an entertaining and accessible programme propagated with poetry, watered with words and fertilized with fun!
The Green Poems for a Blue Planet campaign is for greenies, non-greenies and inbetweenies alike, has turned heads and covers a myriad of eco-themes from disappearing tigers to homeless hedgehogs, ghost nets to murdered Mahoganies, shopping and fashion to ‘poo power’. My Green Poems for a Blue Planet and Verse for the Earth books explore what it means to be green. Or not! The books, one man poetry stand-up show and exhibition have all assisted in turning eco-pilgrims into eco-warriors. Communicating the issues we care about in an accessible format to which people relate is essential to educating a new generation about the environmental challenges ahead and encourages their search for solutions that can create a sustainable environment for all.
I hadn’t planned on becoming an environmental activist! My eco-poetry campaign to help save the planet through the power of poetry chose me!
I’d always been interested in the natural world. As a child, I loved butterflies and birds, summers spent in fields, meadows and woods and excursions into the countryside with my father – who would hold and stroke bees, carve me a flute from a fallen branch or tell stories about the environment in which he grew up: the silver birch and pine forests, marshes, rivers and fields of Poland – an area now in Belarus – where many of my family are still based.
As a young man, I pursued my love of music and became a composer of music for film and television – primarily for natural history films. I was privileged to write around 160 wildlife film scores for BBC, ITV, WNET, National Geographic and The Learning Channel. I got to work with environmentalists Sir David Attenborough, Desmond Morris. John Sparks, Steve Nicholls and my mentor veteran film composer Edward Williams who scored the music for the first major landmark natural history series Life on Earth. It was on the end of that series that I first began my film music career and co-produced the Life on Earth album.
But one day in 2009 there was a different kind of call to the ones I’d normally receive by telephone asking me whether I would like to compose a soundtrack. I was working on a film when out of nowhere the words Green Poems for a Blue Planet flashed into my head. All of us have those times every day when thoughts meander through our minds: what we might do, what ideas or dreams we have. Often these thoughts pop up and in a split second are discarded. We fail, however, to recognise when we are being prompted to take note and receive what is offered. For me, that was the pivotal moment. I had an immediate intuition that those words were of relevance – to be grasped and used. This was the seed of Green Poems for a Blue Planet. It chose me.
A week later I made a decision. I decided to educate myself about environmental issues that were challenging our planet. I challenged myself to write one poem a week on a different issue. A year later I had fifty-two green poems and named the collection Green Poems for a Blue Planet!
Soon after, I was in New York meeting eminent scientist Frances Arnold about a project idea. At our first meet for breakfast at a restaurant’s sidewalk table, I told Frances about Green Poems for a Blue Planet – about how I believed in the power of poetry to help save the planet – and asked whether I could perform some poems for her there and then on the sidewalk.
Three poems later Frances invited me to Los Angeles to perform for an invited audience. On my return to Bristol I mentioned the LA performance to a publisher and within months the first book of poems was published.
The illustrations for the books had been drawn by Wallace and Gromit creator and Academy award-winning animator Nick Park. Many people ask how I secured such a contributor. Well, of course, I mentioned the planet would fall apart if he didn’t do the illustrations! Nick and I were invited to be interviewed on one of the UK’s flagship children’s programmes Blue Peter. Soon after, I was asked to perform to a live audience for BBC Radio 4. I had no intention whatsoever of becoming a performer! I quickly looked around for a young actor that could perhaps perform my work but events happened too quickly and, before I knew it, I was an ‘accidental performer’ in front of microphone and cameras performing the green poems.
Not long after, I was invited to perform to a live audience at the Ilkley Literature Festival.
I was super nervous! But I got through my forty-five-minute stand-up show based on my book and subsequent collection Verse for the Earth. Afterwards, someone came up to me from the audience and said ‘so you must be the UK’s Green Poet?’ Again, as if the words had appeared from nowhere without my choosing, I accepted the appellation with a wink and a dose of tongue in cheek humour and have continued to use the title.
Since then, the Green Poems for a Blue Planet environmental campaign has touched many hearts. It is heart and emotions that so urgently need to be moved since endless streams of dense and arid information on ecological issues can often make us place our heads in the sand! Our relationship with nature must be rebuilt through a genuine desire and commitment to love our planet. The poet William Wordsworth said, ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.’ Instead of an obsession with control – we must grow an authentic relationship with nature.
By immersing ourselves in a love for nature, a true relationship reciprocation can be rebuilt: that which has sustained us should be rightfully sustained by us. In the words of the conservationist Grey Owl: ‘Remember you belong to nature, not it to you.’
In many of the venues I’ve performed at – schools, colleges, theatres, festivals – from LA to India and from Malta to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – I’ve been privileged to experience how green poetry workshop participants and audiences for the show or Green Poems exhibition have taken up the mantle to write poetry or perform stand-up poetry as a mouthpiece for environmental topics.
In London, school girls devised their own green poetry performances after seeing the Green Poems for a Blue Planet show; children at a Bristol school produced a whole collection of green poetry and boys’ views of poetry were transformed in the session with a desire to create stand-up poetry embracing green issues. In Devon, young people produced poetry about the issues that concerned them and wrote their verse on the artefacts connected with those issues: plastics, litter and junk and then exhibited these as a gallery exhibition.
Another aspect of successfully communicating the issues is ‘surprise’. Eco topics are often overly repeated, well worn and become ‘old hat’ – an old hat that badly needs recycling into something that throws a few unexpected punches. We require a wake-up call from eco-fatigue. I’ve used green poetry as an element of surprise by interrupting events mid-stream: intimate dinners, school performances and award ceremonies. I’ve also used street poetry. One of my performances as Poet in Residence for Bristol European Green Capital 2015 involved performing in Bristol’s Millennium Square. I was dressed as a medieval poet and had a large red and white warning road sign at the side of me: DANGER – POET AT WORK. After that – there’s no way the listener will forget the content.
Although the state of the planet is not a laughing matter – there is ample room for the eco-chuckle and it’s a very welcome injection to lift us from the doom-laden eco agenda where our lives are heavy with the burdens of the world. Even though the content of Green Poems for a Blue Planet has a serious message – the garments it wears are a smirk, a smile, entertainment and laughter. Taking an original approach for communicating a message is essential to green the next generation of greenies, non-greenies and inbetweenies!
The environmental campaigning I do is simply sowing seed for successive generations and is a much needed prompt for our current one! I’m looking forward to working with more young people around the world and sharing eco-poetry in my next show and workshops at NEEV Literature Festival, Bangalore, India in September 2018 and in China in the New Year.
Here’s hoping we can all collaborate on this journey to inform, encourage and entertain a new generation of greenies, non-greenies and inbetweenies, save the planet through the power of poetry and have some green laughs on the way!
C. 2018 Martin Kiszko. All Rights Reserved.
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