The First Poem I Ever Had Published

The Co-op Caring Poetry Festival Anthology 1992

People Should Care

Published in the 1992 Co-op Caring Poetry Festival Anthology, Dear Charlotte is an exasperated apology to future generations. In those days, I was a cycling vegetarian who grew my own sandals and I kind of knew things weren’t going to change overnight. The UK’s north/south divide, for example, showed a country pulling itself apart, and environmentalism was seen as a barrier to progress, a symptom not a solution.

I’d relocated to the south and seen the flip-side of the industrial wasteland I’d left behind. Rivers in the north were coming to life again, but whole estates were being abandoned and livelihoods lost with manufacturing decline.

The south was like living in a dream, a parallel universe, a sour joke played on millions of people who couldn’t resolve their differences. While livelihoods were being lost forever in the north, new house building, road building and expansion where I lived in the Thames Valley, which was literally overheating, was creating concerns about the environment. Worst of all, I knew I was the cause of the problem – an incomer burdening the already over-stretched resources.

I’d left the north of England to find work in the south, travelling to London with nowhere to live. I was desperate to jump on the property ladder and keep up with everyone else. You don’t uproot yourself one Sunday evening with nowhere to go in the big smoke to then take a back seat, but I couldn’t come to terms with the scale of waste. Once I settled in Reading in 1987, I started to be the biggest Green ever. I was into permaculture. My car had been written off (that’s in the poem BND 432Y), so I didn’t buy a new one. I cycled everywhere and wrote poems.

But I could see all the effort I was putting in to saving the planet was being undermined. The introduction of patio heaters alone around this time would cause a predicted ozone catastrophe that would wipe out any gain an individual could make. Progress is the moment you decide not to go out on your push bike ever again. It’s personal defeat.

I wrote Dear Charlotte because all around me 27 years ago was war, greed and competition at any cost. Particularly war. All of this was going to culminate in Swampy’s protests against the A34 by-pass in Newbury in the Thames Valley a few years later, and then Iraq in 2003.

27 years later, we’re seeing the cost of those years and the rise of denialism. My poem is dedicated to Greta Thunberg for rekindling a bit of optimism in me at least.

Dear Greta

We are sorry

About last weekend.

The weekend of dead animals –

The dried frog

That we danced

And hopped round –

The flat dogfish

That we barked

And yelped at –

And

The bloated sea-lion

That we growled

And roared at –

We are sorry.

One day

We will take you

To see animals that live.

Sea lions and dogfish

That swim in the sea

And frogs that will

– Dance –

– And –

– Hop –

– With us –

All the way to the sea.

First published in the 1992 Co-op Caring Poetry Festival Anthology.