Book Review: The New Poetics of Climate Change

Beci Carver, University of Exeter

Matthew Griffiths, The New Poetics of Climate Change: Modernist Aesthetics for a Warming World (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

Imagine a version of William Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’ in which the air is ablaze, like an Australian sky, with bushfire light. The singer is stooped over to reap, but there is no crop: she is ghostwalking through an old routine. She sounds like a bird – a nightingale or cuckoo – but has never heard birdsong. She seems to be mourning something, but she could be mourning everything. The pastoral mode has always been characterised by pre-emptive elegy, as if the natural phenomena it described were better understood in their absence. But there is something viscerally different about a pastoral poem that spells out the environmental crisis it fears. Once, when Alice Oswald read out ‘Dunt: A Poem for a Dried-up River’, ‘someone had an asthma attack because she forgot to breathe’.

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Memorial Digging: Ford Madox Ford, Post-War Sussex, and the Potato

Hattie Walters, University of Birmingham 

And I have always believed that, given a digging-fork and a few seeds and tubers, with a quarter’s start, I could at any time wrest from the earth enough to keep body and soul together.[1]

In the first days of April 1919, literary modernist and impressionist Ford Madox Ford was digging in a potato patch at Red Ford cottage in Hurston near Pulborough, awaiting the arrival of his lover, Australian painter Stella Bowen. An empty, seventeenth-century labourer’s cottage, Red Ford felt remote and steeped in history, was full of red-brick and red-tiles, was papered in green moss and costed five shillings a week. It was also damp, leaky-roofed and rat-ridden with rotten lathes and sunken ceilings, but flanked by a great oak, nestled under a sandstone cliff, and facing a meadow, ‘scarlet and orange runlet’ and opposing woodland.[2] The ‘moribund’ plot seemed at first unwelcoming, as Ford described the building creaking with superstition as the ancient rafters worked ‘their sockets in the walls’.[3] However, Red Ford was to be the setting for his attempted post-war restoration: both of self, and of the assumptions that governed daily pre-war life through his biographical garden exploits.

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