Venie Environmental Poetry Prize

How To Write An Environmental Poem by Lynn Sunderland

We begin with a framework strong enough
To hold in its hands this planet’s poem:
A scaffolding blunt as the flint hearted mountains
And supple as green boughs twisted toward water
That it may bear in its sinews and its soul
The very weight of your dreaming

And your poem must sing with a cadence sweet as birdsong
Yet cruel as the iron ring of axe blade against heartwood
For its voice must be as true and as complicated
As the keening cry of gulls above a grey sweep of ocean
Or the numbing drum of rain, hour upon hour
And every time it draws breath
We must hear the silences, too,
Of those who cannot speak

And it may rhyme grandly
Like the broad and stately sail of a whale’s tail
Or whimsically as greenies in beanies
Or sadly as the breath of death itself

But within the footfall of its rhyme
There will always be a dissonance
Plaintive as river water weeping over pebbles
Raw as the rattle of a wintry drift of hail
Or pure as wind chimes
Netting the North wind’s lonely voice

It must sing with a rhythm all its own
A song as old as the steady drip of glaciers
As slow as the rasp of the tide’s mouth
On a million, million grains of sand
As dependable as the lurch and heft of the sun

And it must be sensual in its seasons
Licked by the wet tongues of calving beasts
Rolled in the honeyed hum
Of a hundred drowsing bees
Sated by a sickly surfeit of summer’s indolent heat

And this poem must have height and depth to colour it in:
Be bold in your dreaming, and build it
Grand as the icy glitter of a starlit night
Broad as a prairie blown to gold in autumn
Triumphant in its song, even when
Wracked by ocean currents cold enough
And deep enough to drown a continent

And yet you must not fail to nourish
Even the most insignificant of its sorrows
The unnamed extinctions gone to dust
The drift of time
The silence of bones
The infinitely lost promise
Of a single seedling

Its metaphors, of course,
Must be extravagant and reckless
And here you have much to work with …
The churn of storm clouds sketching their threat
Like smoke through milk in a winter sky
The ashen pallor of a bushfire’s wake
Or the way a forest leans together at the last,
Mourners at the funeral pyre
Of a whole planet stumbling into oblivion,
Its oil soaked wings folded mutely in surrender

Write your poem, then,
In ink red as the fox’s bloodied paws
With a gaze unblinking as an owl’s nightblack eye

And when it is made
Wheel it out into the light of this day’s dawn
And set it where the first fingers of morning
Might touch and probe and wonder…

But beware

For your contraption of caesura and sonnet
Your artifice of syllable and sound
Will in the end be nothing

To the tragedy and beauty of a single moment

On this planet, Earth.

What the judges had to say…

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