Sun and Water

A renga in 16 stanzas
Written by the students of
the Weather Substation at the Romain Rolland Gymnasium
Berlin-Reinickendorf, July 2nd, 2015

The sun rises.
Its rays illuminate the whole valley.
The river flows downstream.
I allow the melody of the water
To carry me with it.

The morning sun
Shines on a green leaf
That floats on the water.
A small ant sits upon it
Making the journey downstream alone.

The days are grey.
They become ever brighter.
The sun is dazzling.
The waves break,
Break on the white beach.

The sun gives off light,
Glittering on the surface of the sea
Like a sky full of stars,
The rays shine
And illuminate all they touch.

Light shines on the sea,
Creating so many shades of blue.
The waves murmur.
The heat quickly spreads
And the days grow longer.

The smell of the sea,
Weak, yet still present,
Is carried by the wind,
Decorated by the songs
Of all its animal inhabitants.

The sea’s waves
Quietly gurgle
Against the coastline.
The surface of the sea glitters,
Mesmerised by the sun.

Heat, what now?
A mouth dried out.
One drop of water.
Desert sands and great heat,
But no water to come to the rescue.

Quiet, yet loud too,
The waves rush to the cliff.
A roaring sound, even as
It still feels peaceful.
Sun, summer by the sea.

Glittering beauty,
In the glow of the late sun.
As far as the eye can see,
the ocean lies calm.
But it can be so very different too.

An irascible wind
Sweeps through quiet spaces,
Turning the world on its head.
And how do I find myself there?
Changed, with fresh courage!

Reflected in the water,
It now sparkles and shines.
I grow wetter.
The heat is oppressively warm.
A night at sea begins.

Outside in the garden,
Leaves wilt in the fountain.
I see the sun
Going down in the distance.
The night completes the day.

She leaps into the cold,
Eye closed, tightly shut.
Her hair shimmers.
It will be dark in no time at all,
For the sun is setting.

The sun rises
And the lake is a mirror
To reflect it, the sun.
The lake sees the sun as blue
And the sun the lake as yellow.

The sun as a motor,
the heart of this world.
With water as the blood,
That keeps it alive.
Without both, there is nothing.

The Hand on the Clock of My Life

With Yeats and Heaney in Tallaght, Islington and Reinickendorf

Mount Seskin, StudentsThese were meetings that were more than warm-hearted. Over three weeks in February and March, I spoke with young people at three different schools about two poems that I believe have something important to say about the relationship between the individual and the respective climate in which he or she lives and thus also about the consequences of climate change. The poems in question here are “The Meditation of the Old Fisherman” by William Butler Yeats, which was published in the Crossways collection in 1889, and “A Postcard from Iceland” by Seamus Heaney, which was written 100 years later. Yeats received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, while Heaney received it in 1995. Around fifty students told me the different thoughts and feelings the two Irishmen’s poems had provoked in them and I listened, frequently both moved and amazed. The schools where I presented the poems were the Mount Seskin Community College in Tallaght near Dublin, the Islington Arts and Media School in London and the Romain Rolland Gymnasium in Berlin.

The Meditation of the Old Fisherman

You waves, though you dance by my feet like children at play
Though you glow and you glance, though you purr and you dart;

In the Junes that were warmer than these are, the waves were more gay,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.



The herring are not in the tides as they were of old;

My sorrow! for many a creak gave the creel in the cart

That carried the take to Sligo town to be sold,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.



And ah, you proud maiden, you are not so fair when his oar
Is heard on the water, as they were, the proud and apart,

Who paced in the eve by the nets on the pebbly shore,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.



Mount SeskinIn Tallaght, Islngton and Reinickendorf, three students each read out one of verses of the Yeats poem to the class. All three classes were particularly keen on the repeated line at the end of each verse, which to many students felt like waves breaking on the shore. Others were enchanted by the “back and forth” produced by the poetic foot, reminiscent of dunes or pulsations, while others were astonished about how an old fisherman at the end of his life thinks about the world and so many different things: everything may change over time, but love and yearning always remain the same. We spoke at length about the connection between the human disposition and the climate and weather. What is climate anyway and what is weather, what are the differences between them and how can these differences be described? The boys in particular asked what “crack in my heart” might actually mean – whether Yeats, as it may seem, was really only concerned about love and its transient nature. I remember a silent student sitting with us in the art room at Mount Seskin College, shaking his head even as he read the poem again and again, quietly and just for himself. It was only at the end of the lesson that he finally gathered his courage and started talking about the floods in 2014, whereby numerous Dublin suburbs were destroyed following heavy storms and weeks of rain. “Suddenly a river that had never been there before came down the hill and carried the houses away with it, my grandparents’ house too.”

Seamus Heaney talks about another similarly unusual, yet very different river at the start of his 1987 poetry collection The Haw Lantern, whose motto is: RoRo

The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.

Us, listening to a river in the trees.

Heaney’s poem “A Postcard from Iceland” delighted the students in Tallaght, London and Berlin in equal measure. Comparisons were immediately made to Yeats’ stanzas, while many immediately noticed that this poem too contains voices from real life talking about a lost connection, albeit in a different, more ironic tone:

As I dipped to test the stream some yards away
From a hot spring, I could hear nothing

But the whole mud-slick muttering and boiling.

And then my guide behind me saying,

”Lukewarm. And I think you’d want to know
That luk was an old Icelandic word for hand.“

And you would want to know (but you know already)
How usual that waft and pressure felt

When the inner palm of water found my palm.

IAMSThe longest discussions followed my question about whether the sense of a direct connection to the Earth represented by Heaney in the poem still holds if the hand in question is being bathed in artificially heated water. Independently of one another, all the students responded here with a resounding no. We were all in agreement that Seamus Heaneys’s poem is an account of two conversations, not just one held by a tour guide with a tourist visiting an island but also the conversation that nature, the Earth or creation has with anyone who is open and sensitive enough to join in. “We all ultimately know the language of lukewarm water”, said one student in Islington and another in Berlin. “When it comes down to it, everyone remembers what it was like to be in the womb – it’s just that it’s impossible to communicate that.” The climate in which each of us lives perhaps gives us a similar feeling of unconscious security: “(but you know already)”.


IAMS, EntryWhat language is capable of making this clear and what language can speak of the dangers that climate change brings with it? In these schools on the edge of three European capitals, not even a trace of helplessness was to be found, but rather lots of youthful vigour and curiosity, a lively interest for unfamiliar standpoints, a great deal of empathy and above all the willingness to finally make some changes to things according to one’s one ideas rather than the established ones. A fifteen-year-old student at IAMS, the Arts and Media School in the London district of Islington-Finsbury, found a fantastic impromptu image for how to overcome the mutually disavowing debates on climate change in science and literature: “On the clock of my life, the language of poetry is the minute hand and the language of science the hour hand.”

Photos: Students at Mount Seskin Community College (1), Oisín McGann in front of the Mount Seskin “Substation” (2), the Romain Rolland-Gymnasium, Berlin-Reinickendorf (3), Students of the IAMS (4), the entrance to the IAMS in Islington. John Keats went to school in nearby Finsbury. The four tenets of the school at its entrance: “Confidence Aspiration Reflection Respect” (5)

Smell and taste

smelltaste

Those roses smelled liked the other roses.

The salad tasted like spicy jalapeno.

Those flowers smelled like roses.

The cake tasted like a chocolate.

The chicken tender breadcrumb tasted like breadcrumb with chicken.

The air smelled like fresh.

The grilled meats taste like barbecued lambs.

The baby cos lettuce tasted like regular lettuce.

The lemon tasted like sour lemons.

Those ice creams tasted a chocolate on a waffle cone.

The spring water tasted like pure water.

These smoked fishes tasted like cooked fishes.

The Marshmallow on two square-breads with chocolate were S’mores.

The habanero tasted like heat of citrusy.

 

– Ioannis / Footscray City College Substation

Believe

Great arching roofs
The windows cracked and split
A thousands shades of light
Shining onto rows of wooden seats
Beautiful in their conformity

Everyone is the same here
You step through the door
And nothing matters anymore
We all have the same purpose

I don’t believe in a God
Or a life after death
But the candles
-One hundred wishes
Melted into one-
Make you wonder

The echoing silence
Fills every corner with calm
Thousands of prayers
Floating in the quiet air
Some want to save
And some need saving
Bu they all end up here

I don’t believe in a God
Or a life after death
But I believe in an idea
That unites the world

 

– Maxine / Footscray City College Substation

Lima

The flooding of Passau, now unpreventable

– what’s its value at the Climate Summit,

what does it gain us?

Faster even than the Alpine

glaciers melt, we barter droughts

in Australia, California wildfires,

floods in Bangladesh

and the submersion of the isle of Tuvalu

and turn them to profit mass. Global warming,

global business. The sky is green

over Lima on the last day

of the conference, so luminous is the sea,

and the harbor of Ancon is crossed

by murmurations of starlings, at whose sight

one such as Auden would think: we each must love,

no matter whom, or all will die, though Auden,

thinking this too drastic, then wrote instead:

We must love one another and die.

 

For Uli Schreiber

Climate poetry slam

1.

Global warming, it calls for a warning,
The ice is melting, the planet’s drowning.
We burn up tonnes of coal, gallons of oil too,
You love airplanes, they’re guzzlers, it’s sad but true.

Global warming, it’s time for a warning,
Earth’s surface’s burning, it’s alarming.
Water reserves drying up –
Let’s drink water from the tap.

Could good old cooperation
Save us from deterioration?
A filter for your chimney, that’s right!
Fight to spread it nationwide.

Start recycle and repair,
That’s our way out of despair.

2.

Global warming, it calls for a warning,
The ice is melting, the planet’s drowning.
We burn up tonnes of coal, gallons of oil too,
You love airplanes, they’re guzzlers, it’s sad but true.

Carbon dioxide’s the villain,
That’s who stands behind this killing:
Storms and draughts and floods and tides,
Creatures cannot live their lives.

Let’s plant green plants, shut down your greed-plants,
Trees are the best filters, now give them a chance.

Flooded by plastic and cows’ greenhouse gas
We soon may forget the looks of the grass.

3.

Global warming, it calls for warning,
The ice is melting, the planet’s drowning.
We burn up tonnes of coal, gallons of oil too,
You love airplanes, they’re guzzlers, it’s sad but true.

Don’t eat hamburgers in bed,
Better take a walk instead.
Are you brave enough to smoke?
What if those around you choke?
Our atmosphere’s our common good
Don’t see it yet? Well, you should.

The ozone hole, up there, is a real evil badass,
It’s mean as methane, the cow-produced bad gas.
Methane makes the Earth keep heat,
We’ll all end up as sizzling meat.
Save the planet’s water now,
Ask not why, start thinking how.

Translated by Mikołaj Denderski

We of the Western World

We of the western world

Indeed have the power

To preserve what was once held

But have only acted in the closing hour.

 

We stand protected in our bubble,

With our vast wealth

Protecting us from any trouble,

Wasting what can keep our earth in health.

 

How could it take so long to detect?

Why do we show no sorrow?

We know how to profit but not how to protect

The people of tomorrow.

 

Mo Konteh

The Things On My Skin

For younger kids, or primary school teachers, here’s a little poem about Earth and the daft life that lives on it.

 

AAAGH!

These things on my skin!

These things on my skin!

I’m all that they’ve got,

I’m the world they live in.

 

Flowing waves, blowing winds,

Move like hands round a clock,

I’m a thin living skin,

Round a hard ball of rock.

 

Just look what they’re doing!

Can’t they smell the bad air?

I was fine with the poo and

The farts that’s all fair.

 

They’re all living creatures,

They have to let rip,

It’s part of their nature,

But I’m ready to flip!

 

AAAGH!

They’re drilling my skin!

They’re drilling my skin!

They’ve oil rigs and diggers,

They’re jabbing them in.

 

It’s the smoke that’s the thing,

That drives me insane.

That and the digging,

The drilling . . . the pain!

 

I’ve got land, I’ve got seas,

There’s enough to go round,

But stop cutting down trees!

Don’t dig up ALL my ground!

 

They crawl on my surface,

They’re making me itch,

The smell makes me nervous,

Makes my atmosphere twitch.

 

AAAGH!

They’re eating my skin!

They’re eating my skin!

Machines in their billions,

Gulping it in!

 

Watch them poison my soil,

Watch them making a mess,

Burning coal, burning oil,

Liquid dinosaur flesh.

 

It took so long to make,

It took millions of years,

But they’re so quick to take it,

They have me in tears.

 

My whole body’s ruined,

I mean, sure, it’ll mend,

If these slobs, these buffoons,

See some sense in the end.

 

They put stuff in the air,

That should stay in the land,

What’s that doing up there?

I’ve had all I can stand!

 

AAAGH!

They’re burning my skin!

They’re burning my skin!

Their fires like cigarettes,

I’m breathing in!

 

The air and the oceans,

Are losing their cool,

It’s got me emotional,

Feeling the fool.

 

The smoke’s like a blanket,

All itchy and hot,

It’s warming this planet,

When I’d just rather not.

 

My weather’s mutating,

And not for the better,

The bits they all hate,

Will get hotter or wetter.

 

AAAGH!

These things on my skin!

These things on my skin!

They’re changing my weather,

With new waves and winds.

 

The heat whips up storms,

Churns up the sea’s flow,

From the whales to the worms,

Nature’s hit with cruel blows.

 

But there’s still hope for me,

There’s still all those kids,

Who are starting to see,

What the grown-ups did.

 

To that thin layer of air,

The air they all breathe,

Now they’re starting to care,

About where this all leads.

 

Flowing waves, blowing winds,

Move like hands round a clock,

I’m a thin living skin,

Round a hard ball of rock.

 

I’m all that you’ve got,

I’m all that you need.

Before I get too hot,

You should stop and just . . . breathe.

The Glass of Water

szklankathey say that some
upon seeing the same glass of water
see it as half full
while others as half empty
but I know
that regardless of it
being half full or half empty
you can drown in it
or drown somebody
because there are also people
ready to kill for this water
and others
for whom a glass of clean water
will remain an image seen in a film on TV
in which they will never play a part
as these were cast long time ago
and roles didn’t go to the poor, hungry and thirsty
there are also others
who will pour this glass down the drain
not even thinking about the fact
that it might save somebody’s life
I am sometimes one of those people
so give me some water
before I die of thirst
joking
somebody might indeed die
but instead of me
it will rather be them

Translated by Anna Hyde