Friend of the earth

Friend of the earth

12th January 2019

On January 16 Steve Walter, a writer and poet based in Tunbridge Wells, will be performing his new poem, Gaia 2020 - a tribute to planet earth and his late parents - at the University of Peace in San José, Costa Rica. Ahead of that, he tells the Times why he felt inspired and compelled to write this epic 2020 word poem which encompasses love, death and a determination to save our planet. . .

Half the art of writing a poem is to listen; to listen to the moment, to discover what it has to say. My latest poem Gaia 2020 began as a simple question to my late parents: ‘What do you say to me now?’ and their reply was: ‘Remember where you came from...’

This took me to reflecting on the life of the planet, celebrating it as our home, and thinking of it as a living creature in its own right. Imagine if you could see the ages of the earth sped up, as if through time-lapse film, rocks forming and reforming, all with different characters, some as special crystals, or weathered down to create a pool of nutrients. Essential elements that make up life, sustain us and the biosphere.

I didn’t set out to write an extra-long poem, but initially I wrote some 5,000 words, then whittled it down to 2020, to match a developing theme, which encompasses how greater change in our thinking needs to happen right now.

Recently the World Wildlife Fund has issued its powerful Living Planet report warning of the significance of 2020 when the world will review its progress on sustainable development by means of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity: ‘This is when the world should embrace a new global deal for nature and people,’ it says ‘and truly demonstrate the path we are choosing for people and the planet.’

I wrote about man’s harm to the planet when I was a schoolboy. It worried me then and it worries me now; what we have done and continue to do, destroying the planet.

My new poem also has a thread of contemporary life running through it, with quotes and snippets of song lyrics over the last 50 years and was recently described by the Mental Health Resource, this year’s Tunbridge Wells Mayor’s charity, as being ‘incredibly thought provoking.’ It also notes the importance nature plays in helping people to feel better after a mental health crisis saying “we are as much part of nature, as nature is part of us.”

So, I wrote Gaia 2020 for several reasons, touching on loss, on grief. I wanted to offer something to my late parents, both of whom cared for the earth and were concerned at how we’ve treated it, and to remember the impermanence of all who live upon it. We're all in this together: we love, we live and yes, we die, but we want the earth to go on supporting the diversity of life for our children, and for the planet's sake...

We are all responsible for what we consume and what we throw away. Carol Rumens, Professor of English Literature at Bangor University perfectly encapsulates Gaia 2020’s purpose for me courtesy of her review where she describes the poem as being both an ‘elegy and tribute’ honouring my parents and the earth they cared for. She goes on to say: “Sounding notes of warning and love Gaia 2020 is a moving addition to the rich and expanding literature of ecological concern.”

Next month I will be doing a special reading of the poem at the Tunbridge Wells Friends of the Earth branch and I do hope you will join me there. To find out more about this or to order a copy of Gaia 2020 and make a donation to Friends of the Earth visit makingconnectionsmatter.org. and justgiving.com/Gaia2020

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