Kemptown in Brighton is the point of departure for Kelptown, in which Carol Watts studies and investigates the effects of what we have lost because of global warming, a change in climate conditions and the consequent lack of connections with nature. The language of the poems has a fragmented quality that is emphasised by deliberately hallucinatory links that express the dire situation we are experiencing today. The picture of the spinach leaf with beating blood cells on the cover of the book symbolises this connection between human and nature that should be re-established to revitalise our world in a more hopeful vision.
The collection is divided into four parts that trace a journey from observation and witnessing and apocalyptic descriptions of a world drowning in rising tides and burning forest fires to possible alternatives of ‘DeExtinction’ and community projects. This is not only a way to take care of the environment but also a practice that merges human and natural worlds in an empathy that might guarantee life to future generations. This serious vision needs urgent solutions, as Greta Thunberg remarks in her speeches collected in her book, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. We seem to be blind to nature, and putting it first again might be the solution to environmental threats, as botanists and biology educators such as Susanna Grant, James Wandersee, Elisabeth Schussler and Dennis Martinez state. The relationship with nature that the poet describes aims for the level of equality that existed in the primordial indigenous world. As Rachel Carson observes in Man’s War Against Nature, published in 1962, the idyllic fruitful countryside suddenly changed: ‘mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, and the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was the shadow of death.’ What Carson described in her book were the effects of chemical pollution, but a more lasting and durable process is exposed and explored in Watts’s poems. Since the 1960s the situation involving global warming, sea and air pollution and the waste production of the so-called civilised world has grown and worsened, causing the opposing calamities of floods and fires.
In Watts’s poems, death looms; it ‘crowns this day […] catastrophes approach’ and are out of our control. Loss is at the heart of this situation and we need to re-enter our community and accept mutations to envisage possible alternatives:
ghost pulse miniature scale
warning glitch grief penumbra
airborne a dream of fireflies
lost to colder climates
extinguishings at dusk ash lit
border crossing nocturnal
The fragmented discourses of Watts’s lines emphasise this absence, a loss we need to bridge to reach the DeExtinction she analyses in the last section of the collection. Her poems are in various forms and include personal artwork (for example, T.R.E.E., Total Rare Earth Elements) such as sketches, photos and responses to music, such as ‘Life Scores’, which was created in collaboration with the composer Dave Maric.
This enriching collection has a complex, wide range of references that also include writers such as Emily Dickinson, Ovid, Pablo Neruda, William Blake and Andrew Marvell, and yet it addresses the major issues of today’s society in a simple way. The poet suggests that this time of loss can be a time of witnessing and exploration, an opportunity to search for and reach the essence of our being. The different moments are caught and described in their shifting temporality, in their minimal simplicity; they form revitalised life in the kelp forest that, like a reef, protects our shores, or in the rocks, trees, wildflowers and plants thriving in the countryside. The ‘ants, toiling butterflies, pollen rising in clouds’ confirm how nature renews relentlessly, that ‘No one dies out, but they enter community’, a statement that confirms a presence despite the loss.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio 7th October 2021