No Other Place To Stand is an anthology of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand featuring work from ninety-one writers. It is edited by Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy, and Essa Ranapiri and comes out on Thursday 14 July y 2022 via Auckland University Press. Its dedication reads to those fighting for our future / and those who will live in it. This is a book to inspire rage and hope in equal measures. Rage at what is happening to our planet, but hope that not everyone wishes it to continue.
The editors hosted an open call for submissions and received work from hundreds of poets, whittling it all down to a select ninety-one. In the introduction the editors write, ‘This anthology arose from a shared desire to provide a dedicated platform for creative work in response to the climate crisis,’ and that they ‘wanted these poems and poets to speak with each other organically.’ The poems in the collection are organised to flow thematically. In one part of the book you’ll notice several poems about glaciers, in another, whales, and so on and so forth. This is the first collection I have read that organises its contents this way, and it was pleasing to take a literary tour of this subject. There is so much that can be said about the climate crisis, and I think this way befits the grandiose nature of such a topic.
In reading this book I felt a pertinent rage and a deep sadness. In my day-to-day life I try not to think too much about the climate emergency as it overwhelms me, but here I am confronted by it. I would say in that regard, the book does its job well, by representing voices from all across Aotearoa New Zealand, and the wider Pacific. In “Dear Banaba” Hele Christopher-Ikimotu writes:
I already know the pain of losing my island
They say forgive and forget
But how can I forgive man for destroying land I will never get to walk on?
How can I forgive man for digging up the resting home of my ancestors?
How can I forgive man for stealing a part of my identity before I was even born?
Here, the poet is furious at the tragic history of his homeland, Banaba. Destroyed by colonial powers through phosphate mining, Banaba has been inhabitable for several decades. Christopher-Ikimotu is rightfully furious in his questions, and he is not the only Indigenous writer to feel so. In “Epilogue: E Koro au e ngaro / I shall not be lost” writer Kahu Kutia concisely states:
Climate change cannot be understood separately from colonisation. And climate action cannot be enacted separately from Indigenous sovereignty. When we understand the international picture of the colonial project we see how lands, waters, peoples and livelihoods become capital for exploitation. And every little action mattered.
Arielle Walker envisions many possible futures of our world that could take place, depending on what action is implemented or forsaken in her poem “dream futures from a plant placed beneath your tongue”:
In one future we have coated Papatūānuku in a thick
concrete skin and all our memory of green is passed down through whispered
stories, all is not lost if we are willing to look beneath the surface but instead
we keep building out and up
The last future represented in the poem is the most hopeful, but also the hardest for the narrator to focus on, thus unfortunately the least likely to take place. In the future from the excerpt I have chosen, humankind is so close to rediscovering nature, and Papatūānuku herself, but instead blindly follow the same paths that lead us further and further away. The common saying goes, ignorance is bliss, but I think here ignorance is destruction.
In “Franz Josef Glaciaer 2020 (will they say)” by Ankh Spice we see the history of a glacier and all it has witnessed melting away into the sea. ‘Even glaciers want to forget / what’s coming next. Return the witnessing to water / where nothing has even begun to remember,’ the narrator states. This is one of the few moments of acceptance in this collection, with an ancient structure of ice giving into its demise. Similarly, Zoë Higgins tackles this eventuality with humour in her poem “Waiting”: ‘This is a premonition, water overhead: like in Atlantis when someone looked out their marble window one morning and said oh, the tide’s high today.’
There is humour throughout the collection, something so precious in a collection of grief, especially in the existential “Rain” by Dominic Hoey:
I ask Google
what if it never rains again?
‘America is dead
There will come a point, if it hasn’t already, where the effects of climate change will become irreversible, and we will be resigned to the future we have created. There is only so much we, the citizens of the world, can do when it’s the giant corporations guzzling away our natural resources and polluting the oceans beyond repair. What can we do other than enjoy the time we have left in the only ways we know?
In “science communication” by Michaela Keeble this harsh truth is represented by a sentient mother earth rightfully excising herself of the human plague:
we have a living mother
she breathes and breathes
and she will cast us out
This grief shared by many of us becomes cyclical, and it is visible throughout the perspectives of the poems in this collection. What can we do, other than listen to what scientists have been saying for years? Sudesh Mishra surmises this grief in “Nocturne”, the second stanza of which reads:
Pardon this grief. I have nothing
With which to sway your mind.
No wit, no image that leaps
And astounds with its leaping.
Just this grief, just this blind
Leakage of heart. A stone weeps.
In finishing this collection, I felt an emptiness. All of this discussion about what will happen and what can be done is terrifying, and this book forces you to confront it. The poems are gorgeous– heartbreaking and humorous and thought provoking all at once. And while the collection aims to make you think about the climate emergency, I think it is also a grand representation of the power of poetry.
But why use poetry to tackle such a daunting topic? What can it achieve? Well, there’s a shared experience running through all the poems in this collection, and also every other poem about the climate emergency. There is so little we can do other than spread awareness and try to mitigate our own small impacts. But by sharing our fears and thoughts through the art of poetry, we reach out to others and connect about those feelings. In reading this collection I felt seen and heard. I felt like I wasn’t alone, and in this age of constant worry, that calmed me more than I know how to say.
The four editors of this collection have done a fabulous job selecting these poems and organising them to flow from one another, from start to finish. Individually the poems are all wonderful, but together they are powerful. There is rage and sorrow, but also hope in these pages. All ninety-one poets are asking for change. Are you listening?
bad apple would like to thank Auckland University Press for providing a copy of No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand for this review.