- October 21, 2022
No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand edited by Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy and essa ranapiri.
No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand is a book blessed with editors aware of their project’s limits, yet ambitious enough to present a varied abundance of concerns, forms and poetic voices. Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy and essa ranapiri are simultaneously resolute and self-aware as they introduce their selection. ‘A poem may not be a binding policy or strategic investment,’ they write, ‘but poems can still raise movements, and be moving in their own right. And there is no movement in our behaviours and politics without a shift in hearts and minds.’ This, then, is what the anthology sets out to do — not to reform climate deniers, nor really to offer a scientific education, but to move. And it succeeds. The work chosen for this book is so abundant, diverse, and urgent, that any reader — however cynical — will be jostled by it somehow.
There’s an untidiness in the editors’ refusal to restrict the anthologised material strictly to concerns or stories from Aotearoa. That’s fitting, partly because there is no experience of climate change that belongs solely to this country — it is, of course, a planet-wide event — and partly because so many of the people of Aotearoa whakapapa to, and are touched by, so many other parts of the world. Australia-centred poems by Laniyuk and Dadon Rowell flow into Victor Billot’s Scott Morrison-dedicated piece, which is followed by Tusiata Avia’s bitter ode to Jacinda Ardern, titled ‘Jacinda Ardern goes to the Pacific Forum in Tuvalu and my family colonises her house’. The melting, burning, crumbling and rage of the Anthropocene cannot be neatly sorted by country any more than it can be sorted into the natural, the political, and the personal.
In fact, it’s in the clash of the personal with the political, the immediacy of fire and ice with the distant paper forms of bureaucracy, that this collection’s most exciting work comes to life. We may long to be climate warriors, armoured and beweaponed, but as Tim Jones writes, to be in the trenches of our climate battle can mean ‘fighting over inches, kilograms of emissions, / redesigning systems, writing notes for speeches / that no one delivers.’ It isn’t romantic work; it may hardly make a difference. Nina Mingya Powles approaches this balance of disastrous chaos and grounded fact in ‘The Harbour’ with variations on a theme by Lucille Clifton. Where Clifton wrote, ‘the fact is the falling / the dream is the tree’, Powles writes, ‘The fact is the running. The dream is the sea.’ A section of this poem teases out this dichotomy:
the fact is the unseasonable warmth of the sea.
the dream is bioluminescence.
the fact is the house overlooking the bay.
the dream is the white door.
the fact is nothing grows in such sandy soil.
the dream is the red aloe.
This is what poems are for: holding two things at once, feeling the truth of both. Powles does it here, and so do many others. Dani Yourukova writes, ‘The planet is dying and so is my half-price orchid from Bunnings’, in one of many poems in the anthology which bring care and apathy, playfulness and desperation together. Ash Davida Jane does this too, with a weightily ironic first line: “I don’t ask for much . . . . I just want everything’. (I’m beginning to think the overextended ellipses that feature in quite a chunk of today’s poetry are tiny eco-poems of their own, full of doom and melt, luxuriating, languorous.)