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Writing the Climate

What is the role of the writer in the climate emergency?

In 2019, both Newcastle University and New Writing North declared a climate emergency. As well as adapting their own practices, they committed to using their positions and platforms to raise awareness and understanding of climate change. In 2020, the two organisations have come together to appoint the poet Linda France as Climate Writer for a year-long residency.

During this period, Linda will be writing, consulting with scientists and environmentalists, talking to readers, and considering the way the stories we tell ourselves shape our action and ultimately our futures.

Man-made Global Warming is just one strand of our current ecological crisis, but the only one with a deadline.

Ten years left in our carbon budget is the scientists’ estimate.

Climate change is aggravating the damage already caused by deforestation, intensive agriculture, over-development, pesticide use and pollution.  This in turn arises from a culture of domination and alienation, valorising profit rather than the common good.  In the 20th century, 50% of the world’s forest was destroyed, and in 2017 woodland loss amounted to the equivalent of one football field every second.  This loss of tree cover alone might account for anywhere between 7 and 20% of all C02 emissions.

These dark stories need telling in ways that inspire action and hope.

It is the writer’s task to look deeply into the heart of things and bring back what they find there.  We won’t protect what we don’t love and we can’t love what we don’t understand.

When American poet Muriel Rukeyser asked, ‘What three things can never be done?’, her answer was: ‘Forget. Keep silent. Stand alone.’

The process of transformation required by climate adaptation involves a leap in the dark familiar to writers, a cycle of learning, unlearning and relearning.

As well as writing new work of her own, in consultation with climate scientists at Newcastle University, Climate Writer Linda France will look at how writers, artists and readers can engage with climate change, with a profound awareness of the interconnectedness of everything that term stands for.

Do we need different words to express such large-scale complexity and uncertainty, as well as different stories?

How might writing and reading deepen empathy and understanding, help us tell our truths and take action?

How can we share our appreciation of the natural world, where it touches us, locally and globally?

How do reading and writing extend our imaginations, so we can create new ways to live, involving overlooked communities and redressing old injustices?

Everything is connected and climate change and system change also need a change of hearts and minds: this is where a writer can help – cutting through the clamour and chaos, rather than adding to it.  I want to plant some seeds to help people think differently and imagine a more robust, creative and optimistic vision of our shared future that we can grow together.
Linda France

Follow Linda’s journey on our blog

Climate Reading Group

We’re looking for members of the public to join our new free reading group, which will meet online every six weeks or so to discuss books that tackle climate-related issues.

Tuesday 8 September, 6pm: Jane Hirshfield, Ledger (Bloodaxe Books, 2020)

Award-winning American poet, essayist, and translator Jane Hirshfield is the author of nine collections of poetry, including The Beauty (2015); Come, Thief (2011); and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001). Her urgent new collection Ledger (2020) is a book of personal, ecological and political reckoning. Her poems inscribe a ledger personal and communal, a registry of our time’s and lives’ dilemmas as well as a call to action on climate change, social justice and the plight of refugees.

About Linda France

Linda France’s eight full-length poetry collections include: The Simultaneous Dress (Bloodaxe 2002) and The Toast of the Kit-Cat Club (Bloodaxe 2005), You are Her (Arc Publications 2010) and Reading the Flowers (Arc 2016). Linda also edited the acclaimed anthology Sixty Women Poets (Bloodaxe 1993), a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. She recently completed a PhD on writing, plants and landscape.

Read more on Linda’s website

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