Place and Climate Change: #YourClimateStory 4
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
Scott Russel Sanders writes in Staying Put, “Many of the world abuses of land, forest, animals and communities have been carried out by people who root themselves in ideas rather than places.” Writing has the power to conjure a particular place and convey to the reader both the physical sensations (sounds, sights, scents, etc) as well as the subjective feelings, memories, and experiences the speaker associates with it. Through this resource, we want to help you to write locally-grounded pieces that capture the impact of climate change on a specific place- be it natural or human-made, real or imaginary.
Examples of such locally grounded work: Since time immemorial, writers have composed poems and written stories about specific places. Examples of such pices include Homer’s Odyssey, Wordsworth’s poems set in The Lake District, and Ruskin Bond’s short stories set in the scenic Indian hill town called Mussoorie. (Fun fact: place-centred poetry is often referred to as topo-poetics. You can find more about this genre here.)
Suggested reading: Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth
Edward Relph writes of this poem in his essay on Poetry and Place,
“Neither Tintern Abbey nor the River Wye is mentioned except in the poem’s title, yet Wordsworth’s descriptions of “steep and lofty cliffs,” “plots of cottage ground,” “hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines/ of sportive wood run wild,” and “pastoral farms,” evoke the specific character of the Wye valley and make it recognisable even to those who may not be familiar with it. This poem, like many poems of place, is in other words, communicates intersubjectively; it is simultaneously about somewhere particular and has a widely shared resonance.”
Keeping this idea in mind, let’s dive into some prompts and tips to help you craft your own locally grounded yet widely applicable and resonant pieces.
Choosing a place: Select any one place that is meaningful to you. It could be a natural setting (like the woods, a lake, a particular hill) or a human-made place (like a particular village, town, city, statue, monument, building etc.) It could be a real place, or it could even be an imaginary one, that only exists in the fantastic world of the imagination. You can create your own imaginary place and explore how it will be altered by climate change. Alternatively, you can choose the setting of your favourite book (Narnia, for example) and situate it in the context of the climate catastrophe.
Emotions and memories: Places are often imbued with the subjective experiences, feelings, emotions and memories of the speaker or writer. In your work, explore your personal connection to the place by describing any stories, feelings and memories you associate with it.
Pro tip: You can use the literary device of pathetic fallacy to have the physical setting reflect your inner thoughts and emotions. Examples of pathetic fallacy include: “carefree clouds” or “nostalgic trees”. Find out more about pathetic fallacy here.
Use images to convey ideas. Remember: show, don’t tell. For example, the image of a crowded shopping complex can highlight consumerism, whereas the image of slums in the heart of the city can illustrate the displacement caused by climate change.
Physical features : Owen Sheers in his essay “Poetry and Place: some personal reflections” suggests that: “A poem like landscape, situates us by translating the abstract world of thought and feeling into a physical language.” try to root your work in all the senses to create a richer and multidimensional work the way Wordsworth does in his poem Tintern Abbey using phrases like “mountain springs/With a soft inland murmur”, “steep and lofty cliffs” etc. Think about how you can utilise the senses to create a particular kind of mood, tone or atmosphere. a. Pro Tip: Synaesthesia: According to News-Medical, Synaesthesia is a condition wherein the stimulation of one sensory modality causes a simultaneous stimulation of another, unrelated sensation. In simple words, it is the blending of sensory experiences. Try to incorporate this effect in your work by including a sense impression produced by another sense. Examples of synaesthesia include: ‘chilly gaze’, “Tasting of Flora and the country green” (Ode to a Nightingale by Keats). Find out more about using synaesthesia in literature here.
'Placelessness': James Galvin writes: “The poet of place situates himself in place in order to lose himself in it. The poetry of place is actually a poetry of displacement and self-annihilation.” According to The Guardian, ‘climate change caused more internal displacements than war’ in 2020. Therefore, in your poetry, you may want to explore this theme of displacement and being torn away from your homeland and the places that mean a lot to you.
Pro Tip: You can also dwell on the indirect, long-term implications of this displacement, such as loss of cultural identity and language.
The Poem as a Place: Cresswell, inspired by Heidegger, suggests that “a poem about place is itself a place and constitutes a form of place-making created by its very presence on the page surrounded by blank space that is outside it,” (from ‘Place and Poetry by Edward Relph). Think about how the form, structure, shape, and visual appearance and typography of the poem reflects the characteristics of the place you are trying to describe. You may even choose to write a shape poem.
A Creative Project: Check out this Seattle poetic grid, a digital map of Seattle which has poems written about different places in the city. On the map, it is written: “We each carry a personal map of the place we inhabit. We live in the city and the city lives in us.” Keeping this thought in mind, why not work with your friends and neighbours to create a similar map of your locality, consisting of poems about different landmarks? You can create a digital map or a physical one. You can also put up place poems in different places of your city (after taking permission from the concerned authorities, of course!). Make sure to cite the Seattle poetic grid as inspiration.
Fiction and Creative Non-fiction:
Be specific: Details and specificities help to draw in readers into the world of the author. Be as specific as you can when describing how the place you’ve picked is being altered by climate change. However, don’t overload the reader with florid descriptions and flowery prose. Instead, use the literary tools you have to create a mood, establish an atmosphere, and connect with the reader. Include details that are relevant. In nownovel.com, Jordan describes relevant details as those that are relevant to impending events, revealing about place and character, and are worth mentioning.
Take a look at this description of the village in the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude: Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.
This highly specific description helps us to visualise the village and connect immediately with the setting.
As you write, think about how changes in the place you are describing can reveal something about the people that inhabit it and about the changing social structure and other social processes. For example, in the “Time Passes” section of To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, the destruction of war and the passage of time are reflected in the changing condition of the Ramsays’ house.
Place as character: You may choose to personify the place you are describing and make it an active character in your story to map its transformation.
Dave Hood explains in his blog that in creative nonfiction, description place is the combination of physical attributes and socioeconomic characteristics of a setting. It involves the description of the culture, way of life, norms, language, values, as well as a revelation of the personal meaning of the place to the narrator. Try to incorporate all these elements in your piece.
Writing about nature: According to Brenda Miller, who wrote “Tell It Slant”, a popular creative nonfiction text, Thoreau viewed the “human consciousness moved through nature, observing it, reacting to it, and ultimately being transformed by it.” While writing about a natural setting, try to capture how nature symbolises some larger human forces and social phenomena.
Writing about human-made places: Try to explore the culture, values, norms, lifestyle, and historical significance of the place in your work.
Avoid using cliched expressions and hackneyed images and metaphors in your work. Be original to help us see the impact of climate change from a fresh perspective.
Juxtaposition: Use contrasting images to explore how the place was before and how it is now.
Note: A number of the tips in the fiction and creative nonfiction sections will apply to poetry as well and vice versa. Therefore, use whichever prompt helps and inspires you, regardless of where the prompt is placed!
Sources and Further Reading:
Feeling inspired by this resource? Craft your piece and send it to us at email@example.com by 30th September, 2022 as part of our #YourClimateStory project. Please make sure to read the detailed instructions here first.
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