Poetry anthology looks to inspire climate action

Special to Western NewsEdited by Western English Professor Kathryn Mockler, a new online poetry and prose anthology has dedicated itself to confronting the climate crisis. In mid-2020, Coach House Books plans to publish the works, collectively called Watch Your Head, with all proceeds donated to climate justice and Indigenous groups.

When the planet is on fire, it takes words – and then more than words – to inspire and mobilize Canadians to do battle for the planet.

That’s the idea behind a new online poetry and prose anthology, dedicated to the climate crisis and edited by English professor Kathryn Mockler. Coach House Books plans to publish the works, collectively called Watch Your Head, in mid-2020 with all proceeds donated to climate justice and Indigenous groups.

The works are a vehicle that will drive other planned events, such as national panels, town halls and readings across the country, Mockler said. “The purpose of the journal is not so much a literary venture. It’s a call to action.”

Shinjini Sur // Special to Western NewsSix of seven images from the series ‘Endangered’ by Shinjini Sur.

A lot of Mockler’s writing projects have had environmental themes and, last September, she was among several poets who performed works in a Toronto climate protest that was part of worldwide action by the organization, Extinction Rebellion.

When that event concluded, the writers realized they could expand the influence of their work and grow its national voice. Their works are part of this collection.

The 20 writers, artists and filmmakers who make up the editors’ collective are inviting more submissions of poems, art, essays and fiction to the project, which has a Jan. 31 deadline.

Mockler said the project title reflects both a warning that people take note of impending climate disaster and a critique of society’s self-interest.

Contributors are trying to mobilize more activists, but not necessarily trying to persuade those unconvinced of the need for drastic environmental change. “Facts don’t seem to be doing it so far because we’ve known the facts for 40 years.”

Rather, she said, the anthology and the associated national conversation can help draw in people who already believe the science but are unsure of what to do next. “I’m trying to reach hearts and minds. People need to feel this emotionally. We all have to be in this fight.”

One of her favourites in the online collection, so far, is by Terese Mason Pierre and her poem, We Will Tell Them of Our Dominion, with its message of what we will leave for the next generation.

“It starts out dark and sad and then becomes sort of hopeful, not in a saccharin way but to offer some way out,” Mockler said.

Mockler said it’s important that the works not all be post-apocalyptic but there does need to be a turnaround in environmental policy and practice. “I’m just frustrated by the lack of action, the lack of real change. We need to be in the streets. We need to protest. My goal is just making sure a future is possible if we work together.”

Promoting climate justice also means bringing to light environmental racism: noting that environmental degradation disproportionately affects those who are less powerful economically and politically, including Indigenous people and LGBTQ+ people, and their strong voices need to be heeded, she said.