An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand
Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa have endured a long series of summer storms and tragedies throughout the last month, with the extremities of Gabrielle leading to the declaration of a national state of emergency. The swell of voices that have risen in the aftermath point to climate change as a major contributor to the scale of destruction. No Other Place to Stand, released last year, is a timely poetry anthology that brings together writers from across Moana Oceania, who offer urgent perspectives on the climate emergency. The collection faces and mourns the devastations of climate change, while imagining the futures that could and should come from our following actions.
Heavyweights Jordan Hamel (Everyone is Everyone Except You), Rebecca Hawkes (Meat Lovers), Erik Kennedy (Another Beautiful Day Indoors) and Essa Ranapiri (Echidna) lend their expertise to edit the collection, and introduce the work of the 91 writers who document their witness to the emergency, many of whom are young (under 30) and Indigenous. The editors and poets quickly assert that any characterising of this crisis as new or surprising ignores crucial truths. The collection may feel timely now, but climate change poetry has been relevant for many, many years.
The book offers extensive, global reflection on various climate change disasters. Dadon Rowell mourns during the Australian Black Summer 2019-20, “You’ve stopped watching the news / because you can smell each strand of burnt fur.” Sarah Maindonald expresses the horror that a Category 5 Cyclone wreaked in Rakiraki in 2016, “the arms of the clock / wave feebly / at the girl in the window / it floats towards the temple.” David Eggleton captures the destruction of the 2010 BP oil spill at Deepwater Horizon, “Drill, baby, drill; / never mind the spill; / but the top kill tanked; / the whole Gulf huffs the fumes.” Hele Christopher-Ikimotu grieves in ‘Dear Banaba’ about the ravaging of the island through NZ and Australian phosphate mining, “I wish people knew about you / Maybe then the world would care about losing their home.” The collation of these poems cements climate change not just as a future issue, but as one that has unfolded and is unfolding. It’s a record that keeps track and doesn’t forget.
The poems in No Other Place to Stand, like the many marches, petitions and protests that have filled our streets and screens, seek to call attention to systems of exploitation and issues of power that worsen the climate crisis. Sometimes this means cursing corporates, as Maddi Rowe writes “sometimes i look at a man in a suit and i / want to crush him between my fingers / like a rotten peach.” Sometimes this means documenting a property manager’s journey into disillusionment, as Carin Smeaton writes “takes off her high heels nestles her sore feet into the cool soft mulch she won’t ever walk another step…”. Crucially, this means naming and reprimanding colonisation—the exploitation and thefts it enacts are inseparable from climate change. Te Kahu Rolleston writes “How dare you!! / poison the swells and the realm of Tangaroa,” Anahera Gildea imagines “would my temperature not rise?” if she felt a “puncturing” as Papatūānuku, and Laniyuk calls out the hypocrisy of strains of climate activism that fail to see consequences of colonisation, “And I’ll go home to a house I pay rent for / On land that was illegally seized / Listen to someone lecture about long showers.”
In No Other Place to Stand, the responses to climate change are not repetitive or monotonous. The voices process and protest with common sentiments, but the poems are singular and unique. It’s a collection to read with care, to treat as an education, and to find the phrases that inspire the urgent next step.