#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 6 – Starlings

Morning. The sound of dustbin collections

and eager motorbikes.

Occasionally the fire alarm test

that startles me into hiding.

Parents taking their kids to school:

answering questions, making jokes, scolding.

But underneath it all, the unmistakable song comes.

A joyous layer punctuating the urban air with spirited notes.

Clustered, drawn out, mechanical, fluid.

Hard to describe,

yet easy to know

despite the borrowed snippets.

When I go to look, only the bricks of the flats opposite

greet me, occasionally with a gull stomping along

the roof tiles.

Even stretching my head out the window,

the vocal murmuration is too far away to spot.

A rooftop or two, as always.

The flocks around here are large, though.

On evening walks, where no towers block the view,

I catch a few minutes of their regular performance:

synchronised sky-swimming,

organised by a chaos of glossy, speckled plumage and direct beaks.

And my day is richer for it.

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. Being autistic, nature is often my only place of solace, and I want to do all I can to protect it. As I’m not very comfortable around other people, most of the standard ways of helping out (volunteering, sport-style fundraisers etc) were not a good fit for me, so I came up with #52weeksofnaturepoetry, where I have to post a nature poem here on this blog each week for an entire year without fail.

If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

(You can also become a member of the RSPB and support them month to month. Members receive Nature’s Home magazine and seasonal guides for what to look out for when out and about. Details are on their website.)

Uncategorized

I’m going to be doing some fundraising! #52weeksofnaturepoetry

Hearing about the effects of climate change and deforestation has long played on my mind — I’m at my most comfortable when I’m outside in nature, away from cars and sirens, bright lights, crowds, and the myriad of other things that often overload me — and the idea that everything I care for so deeply will be gone one day if we don’t stop wounding our planet is utterly terrifying.

Like many people, I wanted to do something to protect the wildlife around me. It means too much to me to simply give in and let things happen. But as I struggle when I’m around other people, and my mental health (I’m talking about you, anxiety) is not up to allowing me to physically volunteer somewhere or write long, detailed letters to organisations and MPs to encourage them to do better, I wasn’t sure what I could do.

Fundraising was in the back of my mind, but as I tried it some years ago and didn’t really get the response I wanted (and some even insinuated that I was wasting my time — talk about a hope squasher), I was scared that if I tried again, the same thing would happen. However, having recently listened to interviews with Diary of a Young Naturalist author, Dara McAnulty, along with other authors writing about their own love of nature and using it as a way to encourage and educate others, I thought perhaps I could do the same with my own writing.

Though narrative non-fiction is difficult for me, I adore writing poetry and often use it to explore what I’m feeling. So, at first, I simply considered writing a poetry collection and having all the proceeds go to my charity of choice (RSPB – they’re UK based like me and do some great work), but then I thought of a better idea. Or rather, I improved upon that one — what if, for a whole year (or 52 weeks), I wrote a poem about some of my favourite wildlife, and with each one, encouraged readers to donate to the RSPB and/or share and reblog? And, at the end of the 52 weeks, I could still publish all the poems together in a collection and have all the proceeds go to the RSPB, just like I originally planned.

The sharing and reblogging part is particularly important, as I know lots of people wish they could donate to things but can’t, and that way they can still help bring awareness to the wonders of the UK’s wildlife and thus encourage more care and protection for it.

So, after contacting the RSPB’s fundraising department and getting the go-ahead, I’ll be starting my #52weeksofnaturepoetry next month, and as the name suggests, it will run until this time next year. (You may already have noticed the new menu option at the top of this blog, all poems under the hashtag will appear there for easier reading.)

I’m still rather worried that this will turn out like my last fundraising attempt, but if I manage to encourage just one person’s love for nature, then I’ll be happy.

(Oh, and for anyone wondering, I’ll also be writing my usual, unrelated posts alongside this project.)

Also, if you’re curious about the RSPB, their website is here.

And if you want to take a gander at the Just Giving page I’ve recently set up in order to do this, it’s here.

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

A few weeks ago, my nan told me about a book written by an autistic teenager that recently won the Wainwright Prize (which is a UK award focusing on books about nature) and offered to buy me a copy. Naturally, having a great love of nature myself and also wanting to read more autistic voices, I said I’d love to read it. (Though, amusingly, the book is yellow, which is the one colour that is absolute sensory hell for me – an easy fix though, as I simply turned the dust cover inside out.)

The book is written in journal format and is compiled into sections based on the four seasons. It’s difficult to fully articulate my feelings on it, but I’ll try. (A warning, though: this is likely to be a long and rambling post detailing some of my own life experiences rather than just focusing on the book. I promise it will be relevant, though!)

Firstly, Dara’s writing is very evocative and poetic – I had serious writer envy on this one. He seems to have the ability to place you exactly in the situation he’s describing; every detail fed to you as if your own senses were picking it up. At least, that’s how it was for me – maybe it’s because the way my senses work are very similar to his, but judging by the amount of praise this book has had, I doubt it’s just that. This did, however, present something of a problem in that it was sometimes too much for me to handle. My head would be reeling after reading a section just like it does when I’m experiencing sensory overload. I was also a little intimidated at the beginning by the sheer knowledge he has; every species and sub-species mentioned is identified, which meant a lot of names to get my head around. I did get used to it once I got past the first quarter, but it took some time. But nature has been central to his entire life, so it makes sense that his knowledge is so vast.

Secondly, his passion leaks from every word, and while noting the intricacies and completely fascinating things, he also goes into detail about the very real threats to the world (I would say the natural world, but we are part of nature rather than separate from it): climate change, deforestation, hunting, pollution, just to name a few. Now, as mentioned above, nature is one of my loves too, and I’m very passionate about protecting it. But over the years, the apathy and unkindness of others has beaten down my willingness to express why it’s important to me. I used to share all the petitions I sign on my social media pages, but now only share a handful, and in 2013, I tried fundraising for a charity (Cool Earth – check them out if you can) by getting tattooed in the armpit, only to have very little response. Realising that I’d pretty much silenced myself without even knowing came as quite a shock. And I felt like I’d let myself and the environment down, that I wasn’t doing enough.

But I kept reading, and as Dara also documents his mental health, having experienced intense bullying at school because of his interests, I came to understand that the key to why I stopped was because my own mental health wasn’t good enough to handle such negativity. That, and I get so overwhelmed about how much of a crisis the world is in that I feel like I might be crushed by it.

However, I also came to realise that though I haven’t been as vocal as I would like, I’ve still continued doing things to try and bring about the changes I’d love to see. I still sign petitions, and when my finances allow, I donate to relevant charities. I also sneak bits into my books to generate awareness, like including several stories focusing on endangered animals and deforestation in my short story collection, When the Bard Came Visiting, and having characters interact with nature in quite profound ways. So, while I might have too much anxiety to go to a climate march (not that that would be a good idea during the current pandemic), or experience too much overwhelm to constantly share facts about how much the rainforests have been cut down or the oceans have been polluted by plastic and oil spills, I can continue to do the little things within my area of expertise. And if I spark even one person’s passion for the environment, then it’ll be worth it.

Now, back to the actual book.

Dara’s ability to reflect on his experiences is really what makes this book come together, and though at first it seems quite simple, it covers an awful lot of ground. As I mentioned above, he talks about mental health and bullying, and how it’s often quite hard for autistic people to express themselves. I know from my own experiences how difficult it is – the ideas are there in my head but refuse to come out in any intelligible way. He also splashes in bits of Irish and world mythology here and there, which creates yet another layer to what he’s reflecting on. I really loved reading those parts.

In short (after taking far, far too much space going over the ‘long’), this book is a beautiful exploration of our world and being part of a minority within it, and despite the mental turmoil it caused within me, left me with an awful lot of hope, too.

If, as I would urge, you decide to pick up a copy, you can get it here. I would also encourage you to check out his blog and Youtube channel too.

Poetry

If we are ignored

The grass is grey, crisp bones poking through.

Buttercups, they are, dandelion clocks

chiming the century after the forests fell.

The echoes fertilise their corms, pushing to flower

at every survivor who stumbles across

holding up their torn petal-banners to give their voices

to the voiceless. Broken, worn, silenced before

by those who did not live to regret their iron fists, those who

choked on their black nectar as they feasted from golden mugs,

no-one left to mourn.