Review: Soul of the Earth

Soul of the Earth: The Awen Anthology of Eco-Spiritual Poetry was released by Awen Publications in 2010. I first read it in 2011 after discovering the Eco-Bardic Movement. It has been republished this year with a new introduction by Kevan Manwaring (founder of Awen Publications) and an endorsement from Rowan Williams.

In his 2010 introduction, editor Jay Ramsay evokes the image of the earth from space ‘in its glowing blueness with its swathes of cloud, sea, and continents’ and says ‘The soul of a thing is visible to the naked eye. What we’re seeing is the Soul of the Earth’. He then outlines our environmental and spiritual crisis and the eco-spiritual response it necessitates.

Kevan Manwaring notes in his new introduction that the world is in a worse state now with this epoch’s designation as the Anthropocene, war in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Syria, the fragmentation of the EU and rise of Right-wing extremism. Therefore it is ‘more poignant than ever to think of ourselves as souls of the earth’ united by ‘the sheer unlikeliness and precariousness of our existence on this fragile blue jewel’.

As I read through the pages from this year’s position of heightened crisis, I found the poems continued to resonate and feel important. Some do the essential work of critiquing the materialistic worldview of consumer capitalism responsible for our destruction of the earth.

In ‘Running on Empty’, Rose Flint speaks of ‘chasing the easy speedy / routes of fields of fuel’, spilling babies, drawing crowds, ‘eating and spitting out riches’ before at the edge of nothingness she chooses to stop running and wrap her Prada jacket around Grandmother Earth.

Using Wile E. Coyote’s constant failure to catch Road Runner, Adam Horovitz cleverly depicts our futile pursuit of impossible endeavours: ‘a blurring swarm of legs / scrabbling at molecules of air’ until ‘Nature’ says ‘No.’ Lynne Wycherley’s ‘Substitute Sky’ laments our ‘core addiction’ to staring ‘at screens’ whilst ‘Outside the real world breathes, and dies.’

Other poems celebrate our relationship with the earth and suggest hope lies in finding new ways of perceiving and being. In ‘Green Drift’ Helen Moore shares the ‘bliss’ of crawling ‘into bed like a peasant, / with mud-grained feet, soil under the nails / of my toes’ ‘green rushing on the inside of my eyelids’ surrendering ‘like a drunken bee’ to ‘divine inebriation’.

Dawn Gorman finds hope and potential in the gift of an apple tree ‘spreading today / into the future / like pollen on bees’. Paul Matthews outlines a ‘Green Theology’ where ‘leaves catching light’ ‘are their own green messages’.

Several poems voice the stories of gods and spirits. Sedna and Cailleach are honoured. Charlotte Hussey’s ‘Elementals’ ‘scuttle about on this branch’ unconsidered. ‘Undines’ whose ‘little river’ has been bulldozed over churn ‘the air / as if it were water into an addled haze’.

A personal favourite is ‘God’s Underwear’ by Karen Eberhardt-Shelton. God wanders ‘around  the village / And across the moors / Lonely in his white boxers’. She offers him clothes but ‘only his fox-shadow sniffs / And those owl eyes never blink’. When she touches him, his form is empty; she ‘must become an animal, cast off / And then we will be together as a world’.

In these poems deities are perceived as part of or intrinsically linked to the natural world. Our current crisis affects the gods (and even God) and in particular the spirits tied to individual patches of land devastated by human activity.

In the afterword, Awen’s current publisher, Anthony Nanson highlights the importance of re-enchantment, which opens ‘the door to the possibility of the spiritual’ which may be conceived of ‘in brazenly metaphysical terms – as a Christian, a Druid or Buddhist will – or in a more psychological way’ as ‘the sense of the ‘and more’ in everything’.

Soul of the Earth is a valuable book, which reveals the earth to be ensouled/inspirited, and shows ways of reclaiming our spiritual relationship with nature and its multitude of deities from the hegemonic narrative of global capitalism.

I’d recommend it to all people with a love of the earth, and to those looking for poetry that goes beyond witticisms and clever wording to address the ecological and spiritual crisis that faces our modern world.