Seeing the Signs

I absolutely love participating in blog tours with Fly on the Wall Press! (Also Happy New Year, I’m glad to be back after my hiatus!)

This week, I’m taking a look at journalist-turned-poet Julian Bishop‘s collection We Saw It All Happen. It’s an interesting collection, inspired, in part, by Bishop’s history as an environmental journalist. I loved how in the preface, he says—

These poems were written over seven or so years at a time when daily headlines brought more evidence of climate change and our increasing disconnection with nature. I’m a journalist and, for a time, worked as an environmental reporter, hoping perhaps that my reports might go some small way to change hearts and minds… Quite a few poems are downbeat, even downright gloomy. I hope that doesn’t translate to despair because that way lies inaction… I hope you also find a dash of humor and forgive the occasional soapbox moment in the more political poems.

What a way to kick off a poetry collection!

I find it somewhat funny that this collection came to me when it did… (stick with me here for this aside)
I took a Native American spirituality class through CU Boulder a year ago and we talked a lot about the idea of having such a deep, personal, and spiritual connection with the land, that it’s really more of a symbiotic relationship. This idea came back to me again recently when my roommate went to an author-talk with Robin Wall Kimmerer and her book Braiding Sweetgrass, while I’ve yet to read the book and was unable to attend the event, one takeaway—as I understand my roommate’s recap—was that Kimmerer proposes we change the way we as modern Americans relate to nature. We ought not refer to it as an impersonal “it,” but we should refer to the plants as our kin.

And this was really profound. (Let’s put a pin in this and come back to it in a bit.)

As was the entirety of We Saw It All Happen.

Right off the bat, what stuck out to me was the way it was it was organized. The collection is divided into three sections: A Taster, Mains, and Afters. Intentional or not (or perhaps only partially so), I adored the motif of a meal in this book—not only has the climate crisis escalated from a taste here and there to us being thrust into the thick of it. But with Bishop’s imagery, I kept returning to the idea that we’re simultaneously the ones eating and the ones being eaten. Now yes, I know that many scientists argue that we’re causing climate change and we’re only making it worse for ourselves (and, for the record, I agree), but for Bishop to have put that idea so eloquently and viscerally with his imagery, it was… incredible.

I also really liked how there was so much diversity in the poems: some had clear lines and stanzas, while others were paragraphs, and, perhaps arguably my favorite, there were a number of poems that really made a physical presence on the page. I LOVE when poets break the rules and let the poems visually make a statement, and so many of Bishop’s did just that.

I have to say that my favorite poems were:

  • A Taster
    • “The Pirates Scuttled the Ship”
  • Mains
    • “We Need Another Amazon”
  • Afters (I was only going to pick one but it was kind of a tie… for different reasons)
    • “Off the Map”
    • “Guerilla”

I loved “Pirates” and “Guerrilla” for their melodic qualities, I kind of felt like these were the most “poem-y” of the bunch. But with “Guerrilla,” I also liked how it took action. It—and “Ash”—reminded me of those articles online where nature takes back abandoned buildings and other ruins of “civilization.” And this is where we get back to Kimmerer and thinking of the plants as our kin. If we, like Bishop, take part in empathetic activism, with “a pocketful of wildflower seeds,” we might make two-fold meaningful change. For one, we’d increase bio-diversity, and that’s always a a good thing; but for two, if we do so with empathy, with patience and love for the literal life we are spreading, not only do we help the planet, but we help ourselves.

The “Amazon” poem was cool for me because of its formatting. I really liked how it was almost like two poems coexisting. The present and an alternate reality: the London Underground vs. lotus flowers; umbrellas vs. ferns; a voice warning you of the danger of falling through the gap vs. the feeling of falling through the present moment and just being fully immersed… I love a good juxtaposition, and the imagery of those two mini, sub-poems was incredible.

And as for “Map,” it’s one of the poems that is literally all over the page. It’s sporadic and falls from line to line, but not at all in a clean or expected way. For me, it really captured the sense of being frazzled that the climate crisis has caused for many of us. It’s kind of beautiful in its chaos.

This whole collection is beautiful, even when Bishop gets kind of gloomy and/or soap box-y. I highly recommend to anyone who a) likes poetry, and b) is interested in environmental activism. I really think you’ll have a treat with this one!

Thank you again to Fly on the Wall Press and Isabelle Kenyon for thinking of me for this blog tour! That’s all I’ve got for now, and next time I’ll have a review in partnership with Inkberry Books: The Power of the Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge by Khentrul Lodrö T’Hayé.

Happy Reading!


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