Wednesday 7 December 2022

Julian Bishop, "We Saw It All Happen"


Julian Bishop has had a lifelong interest in ecology thanks largely to a childhood in rural Wiltshire. He’s a former television journalist and apart from poetry has a passion for gardens, running and dogs although not necessarily in that order. He’s been widely published and was a runner up in the International Ginkgo Prize For Eco-Poetry. He lives with his family in North London. His website is here

About We Saw It All Happen

The poems in this first collection were written over seven or so years at a time when daily headlines brought more evidence of climate change and our increasing disconnection with nature. Bishop, a journalist who once worked as an environment reporter, talks in the preface about how he feels he failed in raising awareness about the seriousness of the crisis by reporting on the alarming data and hopes the more emotional engagement offered by a poem might have more impact. His approach is often formal, there are villanelles, sonnets and a lipogram among other forms. The book itself is divided into three sections which look at the impact of climate change on the natural world, a second more political and satirical section followed by a third more forward-looking section which offers some more hopeful poems. 

From We Saw It All Happen

At The Ice House

(An 18th century ice house was discovered during work on Regent’s Crescent in London)

Polished mahogany tables heaved
under the weight of Regency treats -
calves’ foot jellies, sweetmeats,
wobbling flummery poised on concealed 

ice-beds, hand-harvested
from Norwegian fjords. Numb-thumbed
cutters, slicing through rime, fashioned
brieze-blocks of ice to fit

into steamships, sawdust-stuffed
to stave off melt, cargoes stowed
between beams of deal below,
cubes cracked big enough

for an igloo the size of the O2. 
Staring now into the brick-lined 
void unearthed in grounds behind 
a stuccoed row, it hits you

how a division of spoils is where it begins: 
with the convivial aristocratic clack
of a vintage hock or an Escubac 
on the rocks, how tickling a gentleman's 

gins counts more to those in power
than the cost of a frosted bourbon, 
those who only ever reflect on 
melting ice when it is raised in a tumbler.

Dung Beetles

(Could vanish within a century - Biological Conservation journal)

Strange that catastrophe should announce itself
on such small feet 
among such humble collectors of dirt, 
street-cleaners, shovellers of stools, 
tunnellers through filth.

Ancient Egyptians saw gods in them, suns in dung
shaped into spheres 
dragged into creepy-crawly underworlds;
guided by starry skies, they deep-cleaned fields,
deodorised cattle dumps.

Photographers fawned over tigers, meercats,
svelte giraffes 
while caddis flies withered in the wings - 
no lightbulbs exploded as spiders dived for cover 
beneath piles of calcified scat.

Globetrotting beetles wade through cesspits
teeming with tailings,
cowpats contaminated by worm controls.
Bugs that make the world go round push up
the daisies, while the planet goes to shit.

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