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Narratives of Climate Crisis – The British Library and MIX, Janet Lees, Csilla Toldy and Sarah Tremlett

[Notes by Sarah Tremlett on climate crisis and the aesthetics of climate change, including participant presentations from Csilla Toldy and Janet Lees (unable to attend), at MIX conference, The British Library, July 7th, 2023. Also featuring an in-depth conversation with climate activist, poet and extractive scientist John Bolland adding some vital context to the discussion. Additional important related articles by leading poetry film activists Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran will be published later in the year.]

Sarah’s Presentation

Looking back, we now know the terrible environmental facts centre on a ‘devastating 69% drop in wildlife populations since 1970’. By the 1990s philosophers and writers were voicing how we might expand our horizons culturally beyond the androcentric viewpoint. Today 50% of teenagers believe the world is doomed, frustrated by inaction on climate change, the continued use of fossil fuels and deforestation. I am a Fellow of the RSA where the director Andy Haldane asks how can we be Good Ancestors? I would ask, will we be ancestors at all unless we build for a new energy age?  As creatives how is it possible to articulate our fragile position today? Different artists take different approaches. The artists included here have all been featured at Liberated Words: Meriel Lland, Mary McDonald, Ian Gibbins, Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, but this is the first time that I have interviewed John Bolland and brought his viewpoint into the equation.

‘connective aesthetics’ with ‘the more-than-human world’ (Abram, 1996)

Small Journeys Skyward, Meriel Land                                                  

Meriel Lland

Featured in The Poetics of Poetry Film (Tremlett, Intellect, 2021) ecopoet Meriel Lland’s eco philosophy is inspired by Suzi Gablik’s term ‘connective aesthetics’ (art after individualism) (1992). Lland states: ‘My poetry explores aspects of biophilia – defined by biologist Edward Wilson as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life”.’ As a wildlife photographer and writer Meriel’s work, such as Small Journeys Skyward centres on ‘an instinctive bond with other species’ layers empathic, environmental spaces from her own footage of the more than human, with drawing, language and hypnotic soundscapes.

Mary McDonald

The screen is both a canvas and graphic space for many poetry filmmakers whilst also hosting the cinematic flow of narrative. All its elements tell a visual story – both at and through the surface at the same time. For Canadian Mary McDonald working with the poem Utility Pole by Vancouver Poet Laureate Fiona Tinwei Lam, we have images of great redwood trees from Vancouver island, alongside a binaural soundscape of the forest. The trees become split into repetitive elements as they march in ever increasing units that they have been cut into as utility poles or as we call them telegraph poles. The very nature of the theme defines the formal aspects.

Another of Mary’s films –Wishing Well is a contemplative, meditative Augmented Reality interpretation of Penn Kemp’s poem, with a mandala-like central form, alongside a fully immersive soundscape (taken from the forest and ambient noises such as traffic or planes).

Sarah Tremlett : Ecopoetry Film and Performance


In my film I Cannot be Human I perform my own subjective experience of the importance of animals in my life as in the lives of millions of other people, whether as pets or as birds that we share our environments with on a daily basis. My own rabbit is central to the story, and the poem written after she died. Mary McDonald stated that this film centres on grieving, on the grief we all share, both on a personal and political level.  She says ‘It carries the viewer through the state of anger and also eco-grief, then processing through it and able to move forward again’. It has been included by Janet on the Deep Adaptation Forum site which is an online organization aiming to share the views of people in crisis about the planet. It also reflects on the importance of animals for neurodivergent humans.

Film, Activism, Time – the Aesthetics of Disaster

Poetry films often deal with what I term Pervious Time, a blending of the subjective and objective, fusing many time frames – the absolute and relative on the screen at once and often expressing the author filmmaker’s state of mind. By altering our relation to time, we can in some ways both grieve for, or anticipate disaster.

Colony Collapse, Ian Gibbins                                    

Leading Australian video artist and poet Ian Gibbins painstakingly creates composited scenarios of future disasters: the flooding of landscapes, ‘the Incoming’ as he refers to it; referencing overbuilding, fires within buildings, etc. – the apocalypse that we are heading towards.

In Colony Collapse for example, a type of catastrophe ecopoem, the refrain repeats ‘We Should not Be Here’.  Mary McDonald, Ian and myself are all featured in conversation in a documentary (click on the following)  ECOPOETRY FILMS AND SUBJECTIVITY first shown at REELpoetry, Houston, 2023, and with Spanish subtitles to be included in MALDITO Festival de Videopoesia VII Edición 2023 (31 October to November 5th 2023).

We’ve Been Bamboozled Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran

Americans Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg of Outlier Moving Pictures make long trips to record industrial, nightmare landscapes, oil refineries, etc. In Bamboozled they have used an erasure strategy to create a poem from original official reports from the fossil fuel industries. This visually parallels the cover up that the reports actually represent.

Bamboozled, Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran

 They say:

‘Since at least 1959, sponsored scientific research about the potential consequences of burning fossil fuels concluded that the impact would be “dramatic” and “urgent.” Instead of sharing this information and seeking alternatives, the fossil fuels industries embarked on a longstanding campaign of disinformation and obfuscation – resulting in resulted in lawsuits expected to take years.’

I would urge you to find out more about working on the film and the impetus for making Bamboozled click here.

John Bolland – eco warrior and extractive scientist

John Bolland is now a poet, artist and performer and an activist with Extinction Rebellion.  His main career however was in the oil and gas industries and he writes on extractivism and colonialism. His geopoetry film Blur Times was created as part of his spoken-word project – Pibroch – combining scientific data with a series of ecological geocouplets reflecting on the nature of time, where afterwards the audience are invited to discuss Climate Justice.

He explores parallels between the Climate Emergency and the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 where oil workers were trapped on a burning platform. He says ‘We are all, currently, trapped on this burning platform – and we are continuing to pump hydrocarbons into the flames.’

time geocouplet, Blur Times, John Bolland

With his knowledge John observes: ‘that the current systems of governance are not fit for purpose; that the current expectations of the WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised, Rich & Democratic) are not sustainable; but that change will come and change has occurred before.’

For a fascinating interview with John and his response on climate change, poetry and activism click here.


JANET LEES: extracts from her presentation ‘Blame the Fox’

JANET: Like so many of us, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the climate and ecological crises. These problems are so huge we can end up wilfully blinding ourselves to them: climate chaos, unimaginable suffering – wholesale species extinction – including the threat of our own.

albatross chick, photo copyright: Chris Jordan.

 Many years ago I came across the work of the deep ecologist Joanna Macy. She believes that we cannot hope to solve the huge, intertwined problems we face before we first immerse ourselves in our pain for the world.

Her ‘Work that reconnects’ provides a way to move from despair into authentic hope. It’s a four-step process which involves feeling gratitude, honouring your pain, seeing with new eyes, and then finding a way to help heal the world. For some, this might be direct activism. For others, it might be using creativity to connect with people. Joanna’s process is woven into my practice.

Poetry is fundamentally extra sensory and alchemical; a distillation and elevation of human experience – an immersive experience in itself, perhaps. But when I was working with poetry and photography as separate art forms, words didn’t feel enough, images didn’t feel enough, in terms of the Anthropocene. With its potent mix of different art forms, poetry film can hold intensity and immensity: a multi-sensory and even transcending experience.

Blame the Fox, Janet Lees, poem by Jane Lovell

 The ecopoet Jane Lovell recently asked me to make a film based on her award-winning poem Blame the Fox. The poem is about mass extinctions in bird species and how, though we look everywhere for something other to blame, the blame lies with us, first world humans. click here for the film.

Janet’s PRESENTATION can be found here


CSILLA TOLDY: Ec(h)o (extract from presentation)

CSILLA: In 2021, during the lockdown, I created a 12’ long film poem, Axis Mundi.  In “Axis Mundi” I “travelled” around the Earth through the time zones, giving a voice to indigenous people, and using languages as a guide to reflect on diversity and environmental issues. This was a 360-degree journey on the surface of the earth represented by different languages, and translations of the same poem about the Earth.

My head is the earth, my skin the air

dusk is my hair.

I am the earth –

I open myself and make love

with the sky.

On my horizon  we touch

and eternity cascades on me with the night/light.

“My Head is the Earth” is a personification of the earth, duality arising from the light source, night and day. I wrote it originally in Hungarian when I was twenty and found it by chance in a publication on the internet.  I translated the poem into English and sent it to nineteen translators asking them to translate it as well as record themselves reciting the poem in their language. Reflecting on duality, I changed the last line depending on the gender of the translator.  A male had to say: light, a female had to say: night.

From the unit of my home, I reached out into the world.

I found my translators through friends and colleagues – the sound came from all over the world: New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, China, etc. I had: apart from

English and the major European languages of Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Italian, I had Maori, Algonquin, Irish, Danish, Japanese, Mandarine, Russian, Arabic, Farsi, Zulu, Polish, Hungarian and Hiligaynon.  It was completely up to the translators how to translate the poem, I had no control.

Some translators asked questions –

Some translators sent me 5-6 versions of the recital

Some only one – I had to ask for a repeat if they were not good enough quality, or too fast, for instance.

I made the film entirely during lockdown. I collected the footage for probably over a year.

The Axis Mundi- the pivot of the footage and – my world – was a meadow in Rostrevor, County Down, where I live. During lockdown nature and the said field gave me immense solace during the long months of isolation.  Connection with the planet, the birds, and the peace of the meadow helped me to preserve my peace of mind.

Apart from the collected footage, which served as cutaways –

On this field, on an exact point, we set up a video camera on Spring Equinox Day in 2021, and turned the camera 360 degrees every hour of the day from sunrise to sunset. On the Northern Hemisphere, day and night is supposed to be the same length on this day. There were 12 rotations.

I am fascinated by the round shape, the 360-degree circle and have used it in many of my films as a visual metaphor,

The repeated shots during the hours of the day, the change of light and humidity in the air, gave completely different textures to the shots, yet we were on the same meadow, on the same day, in the same spot, on the same planet.

Gazing at this footage, and listening to the sound of the different languages immerses the viewer in a sense of meditation.



For Csilla’s presentation click here



If you would like to find out more about any organisations in relation to this subject see below:

Sarah Tremlett www.sarahtremlett.com

Janet Lees https://janetlees.weebly.com/

Csilla Toldy https://www.csillatoldy.co.uk/

Meriel Lland www.meriellland.co.uk

Mary McDonald https://marymcdonald.ca/                 https://fionalam.net/         http://pennkemp.weebly.com/

Ian Gibbins www.iangibbins.com.au

Pamela Falkenberg, Jack Cochran, www.outliermovingpictures.com

John Bolland https://aviewfromthelonggrass.com/

The Poetics of Poetry Film  https://www.intellectbooks.com/the-poetics-of-poetry-film

Gablik, Suzi, “Connective Aesthetics.” American Art, vol. 6, no. 2, 1992, pp. 2-7, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3109088.

Abram, David, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, Vintage, 2010.