Episode 5

How I Hold the World in this Climate Emergency by Cath Drake

 

Cath Drake reads ‘How I Hold the World in this Climate Emergency’ and discusses the poem with Mark McGuinness.

This poem is from:

The Shaking City by Cath Drake

The Shaking City book cover

Available from:

The Publisher: Seren Books

Bookshop.org: UK

Amazon: UK | US

How I Hold the World in this Climate Emergency

by Cath Drake

Sometimes I hold world in one hand, my life
in the other and I get cricks in my neck
as the balance keeps swinging. I walk uneasily.

Sometimes I am bent over with the sheer weight of world,
eyes downcast, picking up useful things from the ground.

Sometimes one shoulder is pulling toward an ear
as if it’s trying to block the ear from hearing but can’t reach.

Sometimes my body is a crash mat for world. I want to say
‘I’m sorry I’m sorry!’ but don’t say it aloud.
I am privileged so I should be able to do something.

Sometimes I lie on my side and grasp world like a cushion.
I’m soft and young, and don’t feel I can change anything.
I nudge world with affection, whispering: I know, I know.

Sometimes I build a cubby from blankets thrown across furniture.
There is only inside, no outside. When I was a child,
world was a small dome and change came summer by summer.

Sometimes I make a simple frame with my arms to look at world.
I’m not involved directly. It carries on without me.
This way I can still love the sky, its patterns of clouds and contrails.

Sometimes I’m chasing world through the woods, bursting
with hope and adrenalin. Oh God, am I running!
I want to keep moving. My mouth is full of fire.

Some days are like bread and milk. I just get on with pouring
and buttering. I want the little things to be what matters most again.

Sometimes I hold little: I’m limp and ill.
Days barely exist. It’s enough to make soup.


Interview transcript

Mark: Cath, where did this poem come from?

Cath: Well, I guess it came from many years… I mean I have a background as an environmental scientist from Australia. I’ve been an environmental writer there for a decade. And climate anxiety was something that was really getting stronger and stronger in a sense of powerlessness I guess. And the book, The Shaking City, was very much about… I guess the shaking is about change, it’s about how we deal with change, both personally and in the bigger picture politically and in the world. And I was wanting to write something about this climate-change anxiety that I was really struggling with, and I think a lot of people do struggle with. It feels really disabling I suppose. And it’s good to acknowledge it.

And I just couldn’t find a way to do it. I tried to write about it head-on, I tried to write it dogmatically, you know, we know that doesn’t work. I tried to write it quite raw and it just felt like an annoying diary entry, if you know what I mean. So it really wasn’t working but I wanted something in the book, so it was one of the last poems that came to me that went into the manuscript for the book.

And what happened was I often go writing in galleries with poet friends of mine. So, that day, I was with Kate Potts and Karen McCarthy Woolf, both brilliant poets. And we were writing in a gallery. And we take it in turns, choosing one of the pieces randomly to write about. The randomness helps and we just always, beforehand, we talk about what project we’re working on so that it’s fresh in our mind. And we can get the artwork to sort of rub up against our project ideas, if you like.

And we came across this fantastic photographic 16-millimeter film exhibition by Joanna Piotrowska I think is how you say it. She’s Polish, this was in 2019 in Tate Britain. And it’s all these fantastic poses that women are striking, so it’s very much in the domestic setting. But they were sort of poses which I think relate to women’s empowerment or women’s violence, there’s like comments on that. But also they were very much focusing on self-protection, psychological relationships, and power dynamics, and how we relate to each other in these photographs of poses, sometimes with one woman and sometimes with more than one. And she had this 16-millimeter film, and I totally was transfixed by it to the point where Kate and Karen were sort of far away saying, ‘Come on Cath!’ like they were far away from me and I was still transfixed with this little video thinking, ‘poses, that’s exactly what it is’. It’s physical, it’s physical, this disability, this emotion that’s caught in my body with climate anxiety is absolutely physical.

So I just wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote at quite a pace and didn’t know what I was doing or writing about at the time so much. And yeah, and I guess realized later on that that’s what I was writing about, I was writing about this difficult climate-change anxiety, if you like. So it has quite an interesting story of how it came about.

Mark: I’m fascinated by this, Cath, because obviously I was looking at the poem this week thinking about this recording. And something I wrote down was you’re trying to find a stance in the poem. Because there’s all these different stances you have towards the world and for you to say, firstly…you tried all different ways to get started on the poem. And then, that it came from an exhibition of photographs of stances or poses I think is really fascinating because that’s what, for me at least, that’s what came through really strongly in the poem was that this is somebody who knows something’s important and they’re trying to work out their relationship to that. And you do it in a beautifully physical way. You know, you’re holding it up in a hand, you’re snuggling it like a cushion, you’re chasing it, and so on. I mean how did that evolve? I mean, what we have on the page, how close is this to the first draft that you made there in the gallery?

Cath: Oh, I don’t know how close. It’s about half the length. Well, probably more. Maybe it’s about three times the length that I wrote in the gallery. It was a lot of notes, I was just writing furiously. It sort of hooked into something in me really deep and I just kept writing and writing and writing. And so, I had a lot of notes to get through. Quite a lot of different poses you might say, a long list, it is a list poem. And I had to really whittle that down to the ones that really said what I wanted them to say about the issue and the ones that were a bit more original, a bit stronger.

So yeah. And it felt to me like it was like individual poses, in a way, because some of these emotions that I think you can feel with the weight of climate change are very isolating disconnected emotions actually. And one of the difficult things for me was sort of linking them together, you know, I couldn’t. So that’s why the poses, you know, help me. One day, it’s one thing, and one day it’s another thing that I’m dealing with…you know, sometimes it’s overwhelmed and sometimes I feel like I’m contributing in some useful way to the world. So yeah, it felt really…to have them as sort of separate instances just seemed to click.

Mark: Yeah. I mean, to me, that’s what I found so powerful and relatable was it’s the impossibility of relating to something so big. I mean there’s the absurdity, you know, when you say, ‘How I hold the world,’ I mean it’s like Atlas holding up the world, except of course none of us are Atlas. But then, you say, ‘I hold it in one hand,’ it’s like you’re Gulliver and there’s this tiny little thing. And, quite often, it feels like the size of a cat or a little pet. I mean talking of list poems, it reminded me of ‘My Cat Jeoffrey’, you know, Christopher Smart, he’s talking about, you know, ‘Sometimes my cat washes behind its ears, sometimes it scratches, sometimes it rolls upon prank,’ and so on. But this is a glorious list of poses, isn’t it?

Cath: I think I mean, in a way, we do say often quite flippantly, don’t we, ‘Oh, we can save the world by doing this or by buying different washing up liquids,’ or something. And I’m not saying those things don’t matter, they do, small things always do. And sometimes you feel like you can hold part of the world in your hand by changing your focus in some way or by buying something different or by deciding where your money goes. So I think sometimes, you know, for me, I do get a sense that you can hold something in your hand and it can be quite small. As well as sometimes being this overarching, you know, imposing overwhelming scary thing that we’re heading for with climate change.

Mark: And I’m hearing that word ‘sometimes’ again from you. You know, sometimes you feel this, sometimes you feel that, sometimes it seems, sometimes there’s a moment of empowerment, or whatever. Was that word, sometimes, there from the start in that draft?

Cath: Yeah, it was actually. That was from the gallery, it just came out from the gallery. I think it was. Or, if it wasn’t from the gallery reading, I was writing it fairly soon after. Because, yeah, each one of the poses, in a sense, was incomplete because…and they were sometimes or I’m not sure. And the poses that I was working from in the gallery were real kind of…they were poses that were almost not quite natural, they sort of like should’ve been in motion but they weren’t, if I’m making sense. So, that way you felt that sort of sense of frozenness more, if you like, because they looked like a pose where, you know, there should be something that’s moving from one pose to another. But they’re stuck in one pose.

Mark: Okay. Well, let’s see. If this is online in any shape or form, then I will put a link in the show notes, so do check those out if you’re listening and you want to see the source of Cath’s inspiration. So, Cath, another line that caught my attention was near the end where you say, ‘I want the little things to be what matters most again.’ And it struck me that maybe that’s a poet’s wish because very often we’re comfortable with the little details, aren’t we, the significant rather than the big declarative statement. Would you say that’s true, as a poet, you would rather be writing about other things but this thing is intruding?

Cath: Oh, absolutely I would rather be writing about other things I would rather be writing about how lovely nature is because, you know, there’s a lot of talk of ecopoetry, isn’t there, but I think ecology, nature it’s always been utterly utterly core to poetry. I mean it’s always been our, you know, go-to for things. Any kind of imagery and things like that, it’s always been really crucial. So I think it would be great to just be writing about that again. And I do feel a little bit like I guess, yeah, having to write about these bigger things, as much as we’re also having to turn our attention to it at the moment, or we should be at least.

Mark: Well, you know, for one, I’m glad that you did rise to the challenge. I mean I was trying to work out if it was reassuring or discouraging that someone like you, who’s much more informed about all this stuff than I am, that you feel equally disempowered. At least sometimes. So, any last things to say, Cath, before we hear the poem again?

Cath: You know, I don’t know if it’s worth or interesting to know that, I suppose, I wanted the longer lines to make them feel a bit irregular and a bit uncontrolled. The poem started off very much being…because I do often edit in even-length lines. And even talking to my mentor about this, she said, ‘No, make it even,’ and I said, ‘I really can’t, not for this. Not for this.’ So it was a rare time when I pushed back and said, ‘I really think it’s got to be varying length, a little bit out of control, that each of them are individual poses.’ So it’s kind of unusual in a way from other pieces in the book.

Mark: Yeah, you’re right because you’re really quite disciplined. You know, if you just flick through the book visually, you know, it’s all quite neat in terms of you can see the discipline in the line length. And yeah, you’ve let it go a bit here, haven’t you? Which is absolutely on theme, isn’t it?

Cath: Well, yeah. It was like the poem pushing back at me actually. You know, sometimes you just have to listen, don’t you?

Mark: Yeah. Well, let’s let the poem push back and we’ll hear it again. So, thank you Cath.


How I Hold the World in this Climate Emergency

by Cath Drake

Sometimes I hold world in one hand, my life
in the other and I get cricks in my neck
as the balance keeps swinging. I walk uneasily.

Sometimes I am bent over with the sheer weight of world,
eyes downcast, picking up useful things from the ground.

Sometimes one shoulder is pulling toward an ear
as if it’s trying to block the ear from hearing but can’t reach.

Sometimes my body is a crash mat for world. I want to say
‘I’m sorry I’m sorry!’ but don’t say it aloud.
I am privileged so I should be able to do something.

Sometimes I lie on my side and grasp world like a cushion.
I’m soft and young, and don’t feel I can change anything.
I nudge world with affection, whispering: I know, I know.

Sometimes I build a cubby from blankets thrown across furniture.
There is only inside, no outside. When I was a child,
world was a small dome and change came summer by summer.

Sometimes I make a simple frame with my arms to look at world.
I’m not involved directly. It carries on without me.
This way I can still love the sky, its patterns of clouds and contrails.

Sometimes I’m chasing world through the woods, bursting
with hope and adrenalin. Oh God, am I running!
I want to keep moving. My mouth is full of fire.

Some days are like bread and milk. I just get on with pouring
and buttering. I want the little things to be what matters most again.

Sometimes I hold little: I’m limp and ill.
Days barely exist. It’s enough to make soup.


The Shaking City

‘How I Hold the World in this Climate Emergency’ by Cath Drake is from her latest collection, The Shaking City, published by Seren Books.

The Shaking City book cover

The Shaking City is available from:

The Publisher: Seren Books

Bookshop.org: UK

Amazon: UK | US

Cath Drake

Cath Drake photo

‘How I Hold the World in this Climate Emergency’ by Cath Drake was highly commended in the Gingko Prize. It is published in her collection The Shaking City, published by Seren Books, which was highly commended in the 2020 Forward Prizes for Poetry. Her pamphlet Sleeping with Rivers which won the Seren/Mslexia poetry pamphlet prize and was a Poetry Book Society choice. Cath is an award-winning journalist and nonfiction writer with a specialism in environmental issues. She teaches writing in the UK, Australia and online.

CathDrake.com

A Mouthful of Air – the podcast

This is a transcript of an episode of A Mouthful of Air – a poetry podcast hosted by Mark McGuinness. New episodes are released every other Tuesday.

You can hear every episode of the podcast via Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your favourite app.

You can have a full transcript of every new episode sent to you via email.

The music and soundscapes for the show are created by Javier Weyler. Sound production is by Breaking Waves and visual identity by Irene Hoffman.

A Mouthful of Air is produced by The 21st Century Creative, with support from Arts Council England via a National Lottery Project Grant.

Listen to the show

You can listen and subscribe to A Mouthful of Air on all the main podcast platforms

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Related Episodes

Lockdown Sonnet LIX by Jacqueline Saphra

Episode 11 Lockdown Sonnet LIX  by Jacqueline Saphra  Jaqueline Saphra reads ‘Lockdown Sonnet LIX’ and discusses the poem with Mark McGuinness.This poem is from: One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets by Jacqueline SaphraAvailable from: The Publisher: Nine Arches Press...

The Illusionist by Mark McGuinness

Episode 10   The Illusionist by Mark McGuinness Mark McGuinness reads and discusses his poem ‘The Illusionist’.Poem and commentary by Mark McGuinnessThe Illusionist by Mark McGuinness The theatre’s gilded like a music box.The lights go dim and someone takes the...

Metamorphosis by Dom Bury

Episode 9 Metamorphosis  by Dom Bury  Dom Bury reads ‘Metamorphosis’ and discusses the poem with Mark McGuinness.This poem is from: Rite of Passage by Dom BuryAvailable from: The Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Bookshop.org: UK | US Amazon: UK | USMetamorphosis by Dom...

0 Comments

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A mouthful of poetry! - Cath Drake - […] Mark McGuinness has launched a fab new fortnightly podcast ‘A Mouthful of Air’ with close readings of single poems…
  2. Friday Poem – ‘How I Hold the World in This Climate Emergency’ by Cath Drake | Seren Books Blog - […] Cath recently appeared on the Mouthful of Air podcast to talk in detail about this poem. Listen on their…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eleven − two =

Arts Council England logo