In my element: A year of listening to the climate
Kiersten Murray-Borbjerg, a disabled artist and aspiring writer based in North Shields, reflects upon her experience attending Linda France’s monthly Listening to the Climate podcast discussion group.
When I say I’m a big fan of Linda France people naturally, and understandably, assume I’ve read a lot of her poetry. Yet prior to this year I’d only read one of Linda’s poems. One singular poem. Hardly enough to claim to be a fan. Yet I’ve read this poem multiple times a year, come rain or shine, for over 10 years. I have shared it with friends and family. I’ve read it to the little ones in my life. It’s even sparked rich conversations with total strangers. What I like about the poem is that it invites curiosity about the local environment and encourages creative engagement with the elements. I’ve revisited this poem again and again because it’s carved into the landscape of my local park. Linear Park in North shields is home to a beautiful sculpture created by Alec Peever in collaboration with Linda France. And it was a trip to my local park that led to me finding out about Linda’s climate residency with New Writing North.
I began 2022 as I do every year – with a New Year’s Day walk to feed the ducks. As I walked, I offered the same greeting to families, dog walkers, elderly couples and kids riding bikes still shiny from Christmas. Happy New Year! Despite the cold nip in the air, I had a warm glow in my heart. A glow that quickly faded when the park came into view. Winter storms had uprooted trees. The sight was startling. I rarely make New Year’s resolutions because I usually fail to keep them. Yet in that moment I felt resolved to make the climate crisis a personal priority. Where to begin though? I pondered the question as I walked through the park. When I reached the stone sculpture, undamaged by the storm, I decided to begin where I was.
Once back home I fired up the heating, the kettle, and my laptop. As the tea brewed, I went online in search of poetry by Linda France. I thought a quiet afternoon of reading would give me time to reflect on what to do next. Having removed my winter layers, I felt well and truly back indoors. Cut off from the elements and far from storm-wrenched landscapes. I wanted to rekindle that feeling of urgency. At the same time, I wanted to avoid becoming overwhelmed and lulled back into complacency. As search results flooded my computer screen my interest was sparked by mentions of Linda’s climate residency. I was intrigued by the In Our Element podcast. A series that brings together poets and activists to explore the climate emergency one element at a time. One single element. Could discussion of a single element help me begin to grapple with the big picture? I picked up my tea, oblivious to the fusion of elements contained within, and drank absentmindedly.
As I scrolled further, I saw the podcast series had an accompanying discussion group scheduled to run throughout the year. I picked up the diary I’d received for Christmas and leafed through the blank pages. Finding the relevant dates, I put pen to paper and committed the year ahead to an exploration of the climate emergency. At the time this decision made me hopeful and on reflection it led to what has been a very happy year. I’ve loved taking part in the project and the experience has been transformative. Working through the episodes has felt like skipping stones across a lake. The 20-minute episodes allow listeners to gently skim the surface of each topic. Yet rather than being a shallow introduction each episode has the power to ripple out far and wide. Every episode introduces a new element, a new poet, and a new expert. Each one is an invitation to explore the topic further. What’s more, the podcast format allows listeners to revisit episodes, soaking in the content and deepening their understanding.
I felt in my element during the discussion groups. Despite knowing next to nothing about the climate emergency, or even poetry for that matter, I felt fully able to participate. The episodes were so full of wisdom and the reflective questions sent out in advance helped me structure my thoughts ahead of the discussion. The conversations themselves were a privilege to be part of. People from all over the world, with different perspective and experience, took part. The online nature of the discussion groups meant we could connect from our own environments. The thoughtful embrace of technology created a welcoming shared space and discussions felt intimate. I left each session having learned so much. I also left each session with a clear understanding of small actions I could take that would create lasting change. As we progressed, what was once a huge topic I didn’t know where to start with became a series of interconnecting and overlapping elements.
As the project draws to a close, I find myself thinking about the year ahead. I want to keep this sense of forward momentum alive. This year, copies of Linda’s residency-inspired collection Startling will be making their way into Christmas stockings, along with invitations to explore In Our Element together and talk about its themes. The first episode of the series begins with a group of young friends telling Linda about a letter they wrote to the Prime Minister. So, perhaps the best place for the project to end is with groups of friends getting together to discuss what action they can take.
I really hope the podcast series will be something audiences continue to engage with. Not just in insolation but in connection with others. I also hope to see lots more podcast series with accompanying discussion groups. It is such an innovative format to have come out of recent times. It’s something that can be enjoyed out in the elements and something that can bring the elements indoors. I’ve certainly become more attentive to the elements all around me and more conscious of how I engage with my environment.
Find out more about Writing the Climate and Linda France’s residency