Poetry for the Planet: an anthology

Poetry for the Planet: An Anthology of Imagined Futures, edited by Julia Kaylock and Denise O’Hagan, was published by Litoria Press in 2021.

Amid global concern over climate change, this collection of poems by Australian and New Zealand writers contemplates country, biodiversity, habitat and imagined futures for our planet. The Foreword is provided by Kelly O’Shanassy from the Australian Conservation Foundation. Profit from sales of the book go to the Foundation.

In this year when governments around the world have sought once again to develop an agreed and coordinated response to climate change, the poems in this anthology highlight the many dangers faced by our planet. These poems celebrate the beauty of Earth’s environment, despair at the damage being done and contemplate futures that might play out: sometimes apocalyptic, sometimes tinged with hope.

I was fortunate to have two poems included in Poetry for the Planet. The first poem is about Lake Eyre, which is a vast seasonal lake in the arid interior of Australia. In recent years, the lake has increasingly been known by its Aboriginal name, Kati Thanda. During the dry season, much of the lake is a large, dry salt pan. When rainwater flows into the lake, massive numbers of pelicans and stilts arrive to breed. Though, as the lake begins to dry again, those chicks hatching late in the season face an uncertain future.

A Pelican on Lake Eyre

Did she follow the first waters
as they snaked along a dusty
Channel Country riverbed
like a lonely drover trailing
sheep in the long paddock.

Did she notice a tropical storm
wash down from the Kimberley
spattering raindrops on the desert
sand the way goanna footprints
sweep across a bark painting.

Was she in the Top End watching
cloud head south with its load
as heavy as a morning catch
about to be slung onto the cold, steel
deck of an expectant trawler.

Did the local finches, having drunk
from the newly filled saltpans,
pass the news, beak to beak
over the bush telegraph until it reached
a broody pelican in the Coorong.

And having found this inland paradise,
will her unsuspecting chick learn to fly
or will its partly feathered carcass
lie wasted in the drying mud, one eye
pointed toward an unrepentant sun.

As an Australian, I wrote this poem without thinking consciously about the Australian expressions it contains. But, for those who are perhaps not so familiar with the Australian terms used, I might explain that:

. when there is a lack of feed in the paddocks, farmers sometimes graze their stock by droving them slowly on the roadside, ie in the ‘long paddock’;

. traditionally, Indigenous artists would paint images on smooth sheets of inner bark taken from a stringybark eucalyptus tree; and

. when news travels mouth to mouth, it’s said to travel via the ‘bush telegraph’.

Please consider supporting the Australian Conservation Foundation by purchasing a copy of Poetry for the Planet: An Anthology of Imagined Futures. Copies are available from Litoria Press or from online book sellers such as Booktopia, Book Depository and Amazon.