The launch of our ‘Planet in Peril’ anthology is drawing near, and to tease your appetite for the wonderful poetry that hides within its pages, we would like to introduce you to yet another amazing poet in our anthology. Meet Leslie Tate, whose poem ‘Paradise Lost’ laments the loss of the East Island in the French Frigate Shoals, fallen victim to hurricane Walaka.
Leslie performing at a Milton Keynes Foodbank event
Leslie Tate has published a trilogy of novels, ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, a poetry collection, “Head and Heart” which follows the story of two late-life lovers, a memoir called ‘Heaven’s Rage,’ and other creative work. Leslie has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes, and also runs a poetry group, a comedy club, and a mixed arts show in Berkhamsted, UK. The following interview dives into the 'Paradise Lose' poem, Leslie's clash with the authorities during the Easter climate change protest in London, and more.
You have a large portfolio of creative work on varying themes such as love and estrangement. How did ecology and climate change become a theme of interest for you?
As a teenager, I used to go on long, solitary country walks waving my arms and reciting Wordsworth. For a long time, my dream of being a Romantic poet was at odds with my admiration for Modernist poetry with its hard-edged clarity and objective frame of reference. So although I’ve written poems about flora and fauna throughout my life, I felt until recently that they belonged to a kind of doe-eyed Georgian irrelevance to contemporary living. Reading the IPCC reports and writers like George Monbiot has led me to reassess the pastoral tradition. To write about nature today isn’t Houseman-like, it’s about extinction.
Your poem shares a name with John Milton’s epic. Are there any deeper connections or influences from his work, other than representing the East Island as a “paradise” which is now “lost”?
The Garden of Eden story, although deeply sexist, has a powerful core of truth. It deals with the loss of innocence as we come to accept the adult truth that death is inevitable. Behind my poem is the fear that we can’t stop climate change and a sense of exile from the garden. I was also thinking of the false paradises offered daily through carbon-intensive ‘getaway’ flights to remote holiday islands. I’m a great admirer of Milton’s late sonnets ‘On His Blindness’ and ‘To His Deceased Wife’. They ache in a truly human way.
You were recently arrested during the Easter climate change protest in London, among many others. How would you comment on the authorities’ reaction to such an important demonstration?
Initially they were surprised and unsure how to react, having not read the history of the Civil Rights Movement or Gandhi. Quite a few of the police who dealt with us said they were on our side, but towards the end orders were coming down from above to target bystanders and our equipment/infrastructure in order to weaken us. But we held on and achieved a huge rise in consciousness and lots of declarations of a climate emergency. In the case of Parliament that has not be translated into action. The government are complacent, claiming to be climate leaders while supporting fracking, airport expansion, coal mining and giving tax breaks to fossil fuel exploration rather than renewables.
Why do you think such drastic measures are needed to stir the government into action? Why have more traditional routes failed at reaching the politicians?
In my experience some people confuse words with action, flattering themselves that they ‘know about that’ when in fact their understanding of the science is very limited. People in government are often insulated from direct experience, living by a set of received ideas (and lacking time to check them) with too many ‘business as usual’ contacts. That, and the thick-skinned nature of politics, keeps them from taking the truth of climate breakdown into their hearts. Most politicians are cynics: they believe the only strategy that motivates people is ‘what’s in it for me?’. It’s a tendency inside ourselves we all need to guard against. To challenge the fossil-fuel system, we have to change hearts and minds, redirecting ourselves to a no-growth, non-consumer, collective way of life, while living as active citizens, demanding a new deal from government and business.
Are you planning to take your ecological work further? Are there any events or demonstrations you plan to attend, or will you continue exploring the topic through creative work?
If possible, when we occupy London October 7th – 19th, I’d like to continue on stage as MC as I did on Waterloo Bridge. I feel it’s important to get people up in front of a mic to tell their stories – why they became Green, what they do that’s Green etc – as well as reading their work. I was so chuffed when people with no experience of public speaking came good on stage. I also have a collection of climate/ecological change poems that I’d like to have published!
You can follow Leslie's work and experiences at https://leslietate.com/
The 'Planet in Peril' anthology launches at the 7th of September and is open for pre-orders at: https://www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk/product-page/pre-order-planet-in-peril