Category Archives: Climate Change

Extinction Cabaret Podcast

Dr Greenlove

‘Welcome to Extinction Cabaret!’                                                          Kevan Manwaring performs as Dr Greenlove

 

Come to the Extinction Cabaret and sing the songs of the Earth! Share your praise-poems for our precious planet! Recite your monologues of love and sorrow! Weep and laugh at the madness of it all, and inspire yourself and others to take positive action!

Extinction Cabaret was organised by Kevan Manwaring, and took place on Sunday, 13th October, Downstairs at The Western, Leicester, 7-10pm. It was part of the Everybody’s Reading Festival 2019.

Listen to the Podcast here.

TRACKS

  1. Planet Blues: Sara Vian
  2. Introduction: Dr Greenlove
  3. Choices: Kevan Manwaring
  4. Extinction Rebellion: Judy from XR Leicester
  5. House on Fire: Sara Vian
  6. Do What’s Best for the Planet: floor spot from Tony
  7. Lament for the Trees: Paul Francis
  8. 3 Short Poems: Steve Wylie
  9. When Life Gives You Lemons: Sara Vian
  10. Zero Time: floor spot from Greg
  11. Washing the Sea: Paul Francis
  12. Blessed is the Mother: Kevan Manwaring
  13. Keep Your Faith: Sara Vian
  14. Bellwether: Kevan Manwaring
  15. The Sailor and the Magician: Paul Francis
  16. The Calving of the Berg: Kevan Manwaring
  17. Beautiful Love: Sara Vian
  18. Silent Watchman – Steve Wylie
  19. Beautiful Soul – Sara Vian
  20. Don’t Push the River – Paul Francis

Thank you to all the contributors, especially to our special guests Sara Vian and Paul Francis, to Everybody’s Reading Festival, to James and the staff at The Western, and to Chris Watson from Music Eye for recording it all.

20191013_201350.jpg

Sara Vian

20191013_184339

Paul Francis, Troubadour from the 7th dimension                            aka Dr Space Toad

 

Time To Get Out the Shovels

A Friend of the Earth.jpg

A Friend of the Earth by TC Boyle –

A  Retro Review

This novel feels eerily relevant even though it was published in 2000. Boyle tragic-comic novel imagines the world in 2025 – one of perpetual Climate Chaos, Biblical deluges, mass extinctions, resource stress, and an endemic breakdown of civilisation. Yet despite this bleak (and all too plausible) scenario, Boyle somehow manages to import some black humour into the situation. The central protagonist is the colourfully named Tyrone O’Shaughnessey Tierwater (mirroring the author’s own Celtic nomenclature), a septuagenarian environmental activist turned glorified zoo keeper for a Mick Jagger-esque super-rich rock star, who has a wish to preserve the unloved species of the planet – the hyenas and other scavengers – within the compounds of his West Coast estate.  We find Tierwater drolefully eking out his autumnal years, obsessed with his failing body and lack of sex life, when the arrival of his ex, the deadliest of species, Andrea – a formidable, and still attractive powerhouse – and an annoying tag along, April Wind, who wishes to write the story of Tierwater’s daughter, Sierra: a heroine of the protest movement. The narrative bifurcates at this point – between the dramatic present, told in first person, and the vivid flashbacks, related in close third person. The vignettes from the more reckless, seemingly resource plentiful past, provide an ironic counterpoint; and the accounts of Tierwater’s increasingly reckless direct actions offer a poignant thumb-in-the-dyke to the consequences of a world past tipping point, where the floodwaters rise and no Noah is going to save the animals. The monkeywrenching is comically related, and Boyle’s book consciously picks up the baton of Edward Abbey’s 70’s classic, The Monkey Wrench Gang – updating it with millennial sensibilities. Boyle’s book is filled with brilliantly rendered characters and a vividly-realised, convincingly researched world. Even in the chaotic cascade of it all, one still comes away with a crazy sense of hope, but one tempered by the reality checks of the severity of what we face, and the fallibility of those who must deal with it: the Augean Stables of it all. Time to get out the shovels.

Kevan Manwaring

The Golden Room podcast: Episode #1

The Golden Room Logo

The Golden Room podcast #1

An Ecobardic Showcase (pt 1)

Welcome to The Golden Room podcast – a celebration of poetry, storytelling, music, song, conversation, and creative fellowship.

Created and hosted by writer, poet, and storyteller Kevan Manwaring, the plan is to release a new episode on the 3rd Sunday of the month – with this double launch on the Autumn Equinox being the exception! Roughly an hour long, each episode offers an immersive and relaxing medley of contributions – ideal to commute to, cook to, or sit back and unwind to: however you listen you are most welcome into The Golden Room.

50th BIRTHDAY POSTER new

The first two episodes offer a chance to eavesdrop upon An Ecobardic Showcase, a special evening which took place in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 17th August, 2019. It was a double-celebration of Kevan Manwaring’s 50th and his doctorate. Proceeds went to Tree Aid – a worthy cause which you can still donate too, here:

https://www.justgiving.com/treeaid

The evening was excellently MCed by the inimitable Anthony Nanson. His links and much of the convivial atmosphere is edited out, to tidy up the raw recording (expertly done by Chantelle Smith; with help from Brendan Georgeson on PA, and thanks to Simon Fairbourn for loan of the recording device), but we hope you still get some sense of the atmosphere. Finally, many thanks to BAFTA Crew composer Rosemary Duxbury, for kindly allowing use of her sublime track, ‘Reverie’. Check out my interview and review of her latest release, ‘Thread of Gold’, after listening to the show.

LISTEN TO THE GOLDEN ROOM PODCAST #01 HERE

Tracks:

  1. [00:00] Intro: Kevan Manwaring
  2. [00:47] Reverie: Rosemary Duxbury  (Catherine Musker, viola & Patricia Siffert, piano)/[02:15] The Golden Room by Wilfrid Gibson, read by Kevan Manwaring
  3. [07:59] Welcome: a song by Chantelle Smith
  4. [08:22] Fifty: a poem by Kevan Manwaring
  5. [10:46] Mist-covered Mountains: a song by Chantelle Smith
  6. [13:20] The Dog: a story by Wayland the Skald
  7. [21:21] A Valentine for New Albion: a poem by Jeff Cloves
  8. [29:18] Overheard at Ascot; What the I Says: poems by Gabriel Bradford Millar (with Anthony Nanson)
  9. [32:35] Pan at My Window: a poem by Richard Austin
  10. [34:44] Planet Blues: a song by Sara Vian
  11. [37:51] Therapy: a poem by Brendan the Pop Poet
  12. [40:22] The Earth, She Moves Within: a poem by Joziat Khimba
  13. [45:45] The Butterfly Bishop: story by Kirsty Hartsiotis
  14. [55:21] Claw-hammer: Banjo by Scott Freer
  15. [59:10] Outro: by Kevan Manwaring/Reverie – reprise.


NEXT: THE GOLDEN ROOM EPISODE #2 An Ecobardic Showcase pt 2 – available from 22nd September. 

Look out for episode #3: 20th October – An Extinction Cabaret special!

 

 

Striding Edge

Striding Edge

Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Cumbria, K. Manwaring, 2019

Striding Edge

To walk in the light

after hours, years,

of effort.

The view from up here

is vertiginous,

the visceral kick

a real high,

as long as you hold

your nerve.

Stay straight and true,

make each foot fall

count.

Every step up here

counts for hundreds

below.

And then, heart pounding,

you are on the other side,

and can look back

full of pride and relief,

before you turn to the

cliff that awaits

to be climbed.

 

Kevan Manwaring

Ecotopia – a review

Ecotopia Cover

Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

First published in 1975, but more relevant now than ever, this is a flawed but important book. Using an epistolary form the novel purports to be the ‘notebooks and reports of William Weston’, an American journalist who undertakes a long assignment in the country of Ecotopia – formerly the western states of the USA, which have broken off from the union to follow a Green agenda and achieve an aspirational ‘stable state’ eco-economy. Chapter by chapter, Weston’s despatches methodically chart Ecotopian society, technology, culture and morality – Callenbach’s expositional device for working through virtually aspect of modern life and reimagining it in an environmental, sustainable way. Although serious thought and research has clearly gone into the wide-ranging solutions, the ficto-critical framing device feels a bit thinly veiled and unconvincing at times – a creaky means for stringing together a series of essays. There is a character arc, though, and even a ‘shift’ – a moment of gnosis – when the professional cynical, ‘hard-nosed’ Weston finally sees the light. As the querulous everyman Weston articulates the scepticism of the average reader, circumventing any criticism. Yet the exhaustive listing of eco-techno life-style fixes comes across a bit like a Whole Earth Catalog more than a novel. The introduction of Marissa, a forthright Ecotopian woman, does help to create some emotion in an otherwise concept driven narrative. As the ‘object of desire’ she animates Weston and is instrumental in his Damascus-like experience. Weston’s dilated attempts to meet with the President of Ecotopia, and his desire to return home provide rather underpowered narrative traction otherwise. Yet one suspects a gripping thriller is not what Callenbach was attempting here – but without that quality, it makes the ‘novel’ less appealing to a wider audience. It is the kind of thing read by the ‘converted’. How persuasive it would be at winning over eco-sceptics (or these days, climate change deniers) is negligible. In terms of novels which successfully explore an ecological agenda in an effective narrative form, one would be better off with Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang (also from 1975) – more fun, though less morally constructive. But this is the crux of the matter. Writing utopia is a challenge. It has produced some impressive, and certainly interesting (if not effective) novels: Erewhon by Samuel Butler, Thomas More’s Utopia, William Morris’ News from Nowhere, and Aldous Huxley’s Island among others. Perhaps the most accomplished eco-novel of recent years is The Overstorey by Richard Powers (although it’s bleak assessment of humanity is hardly utopian). In terms of the kind of interrogation of every aspect of society that Callenbach attempts Ursula K. Le Guin does it better – in The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness supremely so. But Callenbach’s ‘novel’ is undoubtedly a very timely book – one that dares to challenge (almost) every aspect of modern life in an accessible and practicable way (i.e. in its reimagining of the education system it seems to have devised the prototype of Forest Schools). In this sense it is ‘novel’ – it offers something new (for its time). Now over forty years ago, technology has obviously moved on, and the challenges that the Climate Emergency presents us are far more challenging. The tragedy is that we were aware of the danger signals, and knew what to do, all those decades ago and failed to act. And now it may be too late. Yet perhaps more than ever we stories of hope in the face of such a far-reaching crisis.

The Monkey Wrench Gang – a retro review

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey – a retro review

The Monkey Wrench Gang cover

This iconic, influential novel originally published in 1975 inspired a whole generation of environmental campaigners – in particular Earth First!,, but also the ‘Pixie’ road-protesters of the 90s – and in the light of the recent wave of protests by Extinction Rebellion, Culture Declares Emergency, and Climate Strikes/ #FridaysforFuture (started by the inspiring 16 year schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg), and the whole schlew of forthcoming protests (e.g. Earth Strike on 27th September), it seems timely to revisit it. Although this recent activity is impressive and impactful, it is good to remember environmental campaigning has been going on for a long time. Yes, it may be argued that it hasn’t been effective enough/gone far enough; that it is imperative to declare a Climate Emergency and take immediate action – absolutely. But the awareness we have now is largely due to careful, time-consuming science, and the tireless campaigning of numerous NGOs, grassroots initiatives, and individuals – often unsung, under the radar, but all adding the long-term effort. This latest spike in activity and media coverage hasn’t come from nowhere, and current eco-protesters stand on the shoulders of giants: Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, John Muir, Peter Scott, Roger Deakin, and many, many more. One of these, it could be argued, is Edward Abbey, whose book – a mere novel – has cast a long shadow. A rip-roaring anti-establishment satire and edgy eco-thriller, it seems wantonly disreputable in comparison to such esteemed company. It relates the triumphs, tribulations, and misadventures of a group of four self-elected eco-protesters (the wayward Dr Sarvis; his sometime companion, the Jewish New Yorker, Ms Azzbug; explosive Vietnam veteran George Hayduke; and wilderness guide and Jack Mormon, Seldom Seen Smith), who, over the course of a boat trip, hatch a (rough) plan to cause as much havoc as possible to disrupt the decimation of the epic canyon country of the American West. What begins as a series of relatively minor symbolic protests (the torching of billboards, the damaging of engines) quickly escalate into some spectacular destruction (the mass wrecking of whole road building operations; factories; and bridges). We may not condone any of the miscreant behaviour – it goes way beyond non-violent direct action when guns and bombs are deployed – but we can thrill to read of the colourful escapades of this modern day outlaw gang. Abbey clearly draws upon the Western genre, as well as the chase thriller (e.g. John Buchan; Geoffrey Houseshold), but his punchy, over-packed prose has more in common with Hunter S. Thompson and Chuck Palahniuk. Purists would no doubt dismiss the gang outright for, among other eco-crimes, littering – calling them hypocrites. But they are not meant to be E.C. (ecologically correct), but fully-rounded, deeply flawed characters. Abbey was not trying to write a manual for budding eco-warriors, signalling his virtue to the world – but write an entertaining novel which makes a point. It certainly crackles with an angry fire at the destruction of the remaining American wilderness, but it seems intent to be more provocative than coercive or corrective. It does not seek to offer a blueprint for a better way of living – but its wild energy and excoriating critique of the ‘System’, still can inspire to this day*. But don’t follow it literally. As Abbey, the sardonic trickster, himself warns: ‘Anyone who takes this book seriously will be shot. Anyone who does not take it seriously will be buried alive by a Mitsubishi bulldozer.’

Kevan Manwaring

 

*Abbey’s novel is a brilliant example of how the arts can engage with the environmental movement. FFI see Culture Declares Emergency: 

https://sites.google.com/view/culturedeclaresemergency/home

The Overstory – a review

the overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers

This ambitious, arborescent novel is a towering achievement – I haven’t read prose fiction with such reach, depth, and impact for a long time. Powers’ Booker-short-listed magnum opus attempts the maximalist grand narrative of the classic Victorian novel, as the title, The Overstory, suggests. Shattered by Modernism, and scattered by Post-Modernism, perhaps it is time for its rehabilitation and return in an atomised age when people are seeking stories that make sense of the world around us (hence the popularity of high concept books like Sapiens that create a meaningful narrative for humankind in a time of increasing meaninglessness). What is radically refreshing about Powers’ book is that the grand narrative it offers is not an anthropocentric one. It is a sylvan one – for trees are at the heart of this book. The provide a thematic structure (Roots; Trunk; Crown; Seeds), are intrinsic to the novel’s thesis (in a nutshell: trees as a species are far older than us, contribute collaboratively to the ecosystem, and will probably outlast, even as we denude the priceless woods of the world at an unprecedented rate). Powers has a cast of 8 main characters – an outsider artist; a Chinese-American engineer; a property lawyer (and his restless wife); a veteran drifter; a games designer guru; a bioscientist; and back-from-the-dead undergrad who hears voices. Each of these initially disconnected lives are associated with a tree through upbringing, serendipity, or temperament. We watch these fictional birth trees grow, mature, flower, and fall, over several decades. Different paradigms, aptitudes, and agendas all intersect through the growing environmental crisis in some way. As the Earth’s resources are depleted and climates change, some of these characters will become radicalised through the concern for what we are doing to our irreplaceable home: the rapacious devastation of the very biodiversity which may save us; the resources that will sustain us; the species that we share our home with and possible sentience. Thus far, the novel could have still existed within the tradition of mimetic ‘realism’, but Powers boldly imagines a non-anthropocentric perspective, and an even a post-human future – one that destabilises our (imagined) pole position in the ecosystem, the hubristic apex-predator, but does not estrange us from the interlacement of nature. Rather, it restores us to – babes in the wood, still to learn the art of being, of mutuality, and respectful co-existence. As in the Transcendentalist tradition of American nature mystics and thinkers like Whitman, Thoreau and Muir, Powers sees beyond the petty concerns of man, finding renewal of meaning and purpose in nature. Yet the vision it offers it not naïve – the complex problems of the world are ever-present, and no one here gets out alive – but profoundly subtle, sophisticated, and sustaining. The novel looks to the future continually, often sending messages back as it leaps into full omniscience. The Overstory dares to shift emphasis and empathy beyond the brief lives of its protagonists, and ‘the real world’ (i.e. the finite, flawed human world) of the here and now. Temporality and spaciality are recalibrated to a different scale. It is a Promethean project, and perhaps one destined to be consumed by the fire it seeks to seize. Powers acknowledges the challenge:

To be human is to confuse a satisfying story for a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs. No: life is mobilized on a vastly larger scale, and the world is falling precisely because no novel can make the contest for the world seem as compelling as the struggles between a few lost people.

And yet Powers achieves just that. The – fully-realised lives of its human protagonists unfold in an engaging way, but just as gripping is the great drama unfolding on a transhuman scale: Nature becoming conscious of itself, or waiting for us to realise it has been so all along. The novel brings that compassionate act of attention to the minutest and vastest miracle of the natural world. To read its 502 pages is akin to the ‘forest-bathing’ popular in Japan, it provides fictional shirin-yoku. The Overstory is of a novel of vaulting ambition – it makes the forests walk (and talk). It manages to achieve what few novels even dare, these days – it makes us look beyond ourselves (increasingly rare in an Age of Selfie and the enforced narcissism of social media). It makes us look up, look down at the earth beneath our feet, breathe, and wonder. The Overstory casts a long shadow, and its story may outlive ‘the novel’ itself (and perhaps even the people who read them).

Kevan Manwaring 2019-01-10