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Rewriting the Climate

by on 4 November 2019

A Peek Behind the Cumulonimbus  

Rewriting the Climate

by Matthew Griffiths

Arts Richmond, Richmond Literature Festival, Hampton Hill Theatre, until 2nd November

Review by Heather Moulson

A thoughtful and sedate event presented by Matthew Griffiths and Polly Atkin with guest readers, Malisa A Elliott, Stephen Leslie and Heather Montford, this thought-provoking evening was introduced gently by Matthew who explained his angle on one of the greatest issues of our  time. Matthew explained how he was driven to produce his new collection, The New Poetics of Climate Change and elaborated on the innovative mix of modern poetry that is vital to comprehend such a complex subject.


In the first half, a scale of eclectic poems were read, with nicely paced explanations in between, and alternated by Matthew and Polly. The first being The Greenhouse Effect by Fleur Adcock, read by Malisa A Elliot. Malisa’s strong delivery drove home, and the lyrical works of Adcock’s poems focused on, simple things such as looking out to sea. Matthew talked about the very common term, The Greenhouse Effect and the many layers of its meaning. Stephen Leslie gave a strong reading of an excerpt from the immortal Wasteland by T S Eliot – The Burial of the Dead. Matthew chose this because of the clamouring of voices, and several landscapes, and felt it should be discussed about the way we see nature.

We welcomed back Malisa as she read My Heart Soars by Chief Dan George, from a collection of Canadian nature poems. Poetry Performance favourite, Heather Montford read The Poems of our Climate by Wallace Stevens. Heather’s gentleness and tone made these vital words from Stevens ring clear. The Leaves of a Dream and the Leaves of an Onion by Arthur Sze, an amazing Chinese American poet, was read by the talented Malisa. This was the most significant message, as Matthew elaborated how this poem provoked such multiple images, for instance the concept of separating things. Stephen breathed life into the words of Windscale by Norman Nicholson. Then the three effective poets were reunited to read the extraordinarily hard hitting The Imaginary Iceberg by Elizabeth Bishop. Heather then read Ordinary Details by Jane Cooper, which was anything but. The trio reformed for the final poem, Positive Feedback Loop by Jorie Graham.

Matthew’s summary of this array of poems was articulate and full of insight, genuinely making us re-think our concepts of Climate Change. Matthew’s choice became clear, full of illustration and strong images and provoking a response in all senses, and making us realise that these were carefully researched and well-chosen poems.

The second half brought a discussion between Polly and Matthew. They talked about motives for their work and theories, and the beginnings of their interests in Climate Change. This was followed by questions from the audience, for example – Who were the new eco-poets? Many names came up, including Frances Presley, an important and significant British poet, whose writing is very relevant to our issues. Another point came up about schools and young people, and Polly explained that she runs workshops with schools and community groups. Children are very concerned about climate change.

To conclude the evening, Polly read her own poems including the thought provoking, Bluebell Season and Hunting the Stag. The climax of the evening was Matthew reading his work consisting of the haunting Bearing Myself, Cod Philosophy and Metaphor, the latter from his pamphlet How to Be Late. I would sincerely recommend Matthew’s current collection about these issues and we thank him for such an insightful and innovative evening.

Heather Moulson
November 2019

Photography by BA Tipping

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