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Geopoetry 2020: A Celebration

Rocks have long inspired poets, so this event brought together poets and geoscientists to discuss how, in an era of climate change, their disciplines can influence each other and to further encourage the rocks to speak.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 6 - 2021

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Geopoetry 2020: A Celebration

I had imagined a basement bar, beatnik black berets and Gauloises embers, maybe too many plaid shirts and unkempt beards. How wrong could I have been! As it happened, the plan was that Geopoetry 2020, held on National Poetry day (1st Oct) would be a walk through Edinburgh, and a climb to Arthur’s Seat sharing geo-poems in a landscape of breathtaking geology. But the rain would have done for that if Covid had not have got there first, so we met, as we have all met this year, online in a delicious zoomery of talking heads and listening hearts for a day of celebration of all things geopoetical. And when I say all things, it reached out in pan-media from readings of new and classic poetry, videos, art and even folk music, bringing together souls condensing insights from and of geology.

This celebration is an occasional event, organised this time in a collaboration between the Geology Society of London, the Edinburgh Geological Society, The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, Heriot-Watt University and the Scottish Poetry Library, sponsored by the Scottish Energy Forum. It is frankly a big deal poetry-wise, with a big openhearted agenda summarised by Bryan Lovell, the convenor of Geopoetry 2011 in the following call-to-arms:

“We have travelled from a feeling of mastery over all Earth’s creatures, to passivity in the face of geological forces apparently way beyond our control, to a growing apprehension that we may be marking our own stewardship of the blue planet in a fashion we would not wisely choose. Poets and geologists have a common cause: a search for words to help us to understand what we do.”

Just to be clear – I’m not going to list the 44 performances, or even pick out what the highlights were for me. It was a whole day to be considered as a whole day! If you are curious – sit down with a cup of tea and head to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xzs5YMhJiAk&t=13s, to browse through on your own poetic field trip, picking up treasures as you go. 

What I hope you will find are poems that will further allow you to explore the common cause of poets and geologists – to help us understand what we are for. And perhaps help shine a light on what we else we could be doing.

Most of the contributors pre-staged the readings of their work with an explanation of where they are coming from, or a background to the work. What comes across strongly is that the adventure to explore this linguistic space is inclusive – geologist or non-geologist, professional or amateur poet, young or old, from across diverse cultures and societies in our land and others. We can of course (like in everything) work harder to include other voices too, but it seems that there is no exclusivity in the smithed word. We all have tools to express our insights into how geology shapes us.

Yet, in with the myriad views through the prism of how we experience the earth and the wonder and our insignificance in the face of geology’s time, what appeared from the day was a heartfelt connection with Place. With geography, locality and topology – the children of geology. Time and again the work resonated with Place – and especially in Covid times, revealed a deeper connection to where our feet are rooted than I thought anyone really noticed. Just follow the YouTube link and listen to the clever, fleet-footed words in the hands and accents of insightful souls.

So, there is potentially a technical bit in here on where the border between geopoetry and geopoetics lies. Scottish poet Kenneth White founded the International Institute of Geopoetics in 1989, “concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world”. And there is a sense that a lot of Geopoetry 2020 sat within that and how people inhabit and connect to each other between rock and time.

Geology, I suspect, is where science goes when it feels like writing poetry. The past is an imaginary made-up world that we inhabit only in our minds, with the few facts we think are truths. It is here too our emotional hearts reside and it is no surprise that geology and love sat hand in hand, looking out from the volcanic plug of Arthur’s Seat, in the Edinburgh rain, as we shared an awesome day of “poetry with some geology in it”.

The author would like to thank Patrick Corbett for his help with this article.

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